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GMAT Sentence Correction: Means of vs. Means to

Learn these subtle distinctions for some of the trickiest GMAT Sentence Correction questions!

 

Question

First, consider this question before you read the post.

1) In a recent policy shift, the management of the county’s public senior-citizen facilities has cut staff hours as means to greater economic sustainability and has lowered the percentage of new residents it will accept whose only source of income is Social Security.

(A) to greater economic sustainability and has lowered
(B) to greater sustainability economically and has lowered
(C) of greater economic sustainability and lowering
(D) of greater sustainability economically and lowering
(E) for greater economic sustainability and the lowering of

A complete explanation of this question will come at the end of this post.

 

The Difference a Preposition Makes

One of the splits in this SC question is the opening preposition, the preposition which accompanies “means” in the stem.

This is one of the subtlest of English idioms.  First of all, “means for” is wrong 100% of the time: that’s easy.  What’s difficult is the difference between “means of” and “means to.”

When we say “X as a means of Y” suggests that X is a kind of Y.  For example, I might say:

2) Dining out only seldom is a means of saving money.

3) Hand gestures alone do not always suffice as a means of communication.

In #2, there are many ways to save money, and one of those, one kind of way to save money, is to dine out infrequently.  In #3, there are several forms of communication, and one of those, although not always the most efficient, are hand gestures.

Notice, in particular, the specific English idiom “by means of”, which means “with the use or help of.”

4) Having lost my paddles downstream, I rowed the canoe by means of a plank.

By contrast, the idiom “X as a means to Y” clearly delineates a difference between X and Y: X is a step on the way to Y, but X and Y are clearly different things, and one’s intent is to use X and thereby move past it toward Y.  In this construct, Y is the true goal, the true object of one’s intention, and X is merely a method employed to achieve this goal.

5) She adopted a no-carb diet as a means to losing weight quickly.

6) The historic town invested in a billboard along the nearby interstate as a means to increased tourism.

In #5, the no-carbs diet is not a goal in and of itself: rather, it is simply a tool, a method, but which the person in question intends to lose weight.  In #6, the billboard is not a goal in and of itself; the town’s goal is increased tourism, and the billboard is simply a method they hope will achieve this.

By no means should you assume these are the only idioms in English involving “means”, but by all means you should study this particular distinction, a possible split on more challenging Sentence Correction questions.  We want to support your understanding of GMAT SC by any means!

 

The Question Again

1) In a recent policy shift, the management of the county’s public senior-citizen facilities have cut staff hours as means to greater economic sustainability and have lowered the percentage of new residents it will accept whose only source of income is Social Security.

    (A) to greater economic sustainability and have lowered
    (B) to greater sustainability economically and have lowered
    (C) of greater economic sustainability and lowering
    (D) of greater sustainability economically and lowering
    (E) for greater economic sustainability and the lowering of

 

The Explanation

The foregoing discussion has probably helped you narrow down the choices.  “Means for” is always wrong, so (E) is out.  Here we are discussing cutting staff hours vs. greater economic sustainability.  We don’t want to suggest that cutting staff hours is a kind of greater economic sustainability.  Rather, cutting staff hours is not desirable in and of itself, but it’s a step the senior-citizen facilities are taking to reach their intended goal of greater economic sustainability.  Therefore, in this context, “means to” is correct and “means of” is incorrect.  That narrows choices down to (A) and (B).

Notice, also, the verbs “has cut” and “has lowered”/”lowering” must be in parallel, so “has lowered” is correct —- also (A) and (B) only.  The difference between them is another tricky split I have discussed in this post: http://clemmonsdogpark.info/gmat/2012/gmat-sentence-correction-the-power-of-al-the-adjectival-ending/.  The phrase “greater economic sustainability” tells us specifically: what kind of sustainability?  Very specifically, they want to stay financially afloat: that’s economic sustainability.  By contrast, “greater sustainability economically” means they want broader sustainability in general (financial, emotional, moral, spiritual, etc.) and they want to achieve this broad sustainability economically, that is to say, at low cost.  In context, that’s wacky.  Clearly, the word “economic”/”economically” is supposed to tell us the specific kind of sustainability, not to qualify that this broad open-ended sustainability should be achieved with cost-cutting measure.  Therefore, (A) is the best answer.

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