24. Word Order Items

All of the answer choices for a Structure item involving word order contain more or less the same words, but they are arranged in four different orders. The word order is “scrambled” in three choices; one is correct. Most items consist of three or four words.

(A) J K L
(B) L K J
(C) J L K
(D) K J L

Word order problems are easy to identify because the answer choices are exactly–or almost exactly–the same length, so the answer choices form a rectangle.

(A) so far away from
(B) away so far from
(C) from so far away
(D) away from so far

Many different types of structures are used in word order problems. One of the most common is a phrase with a superlative adjective or adverb.
Word order items are the only Structure items in which the distractors can be ungrammatical. In other Structure problems, distractors are always correct in some context. However, at least two of the choices may be grammatical. The correct choice depends on the context of the sentence.
It sometimes is easy to eliminate distractors in word order items by making sure they “fit” the rest of the sentence. If you are not sure which remaining answer is correct, use your “ear.” Say the sentence to yourself (silently) to see which sounds best. Sometimes in word order problems, the answer that looks best doesn’t always sound best. Don’t, however, go just by the sound of the answer choices; you must consider them as part of the whole sentence.
A special type of word order problem involves inversions. This type of sentence uses question word order even though the sentence is not a question. When are inversions used?

  • When the negative words listed below are placed at the beginning of a clause for emphasis.
    not onlynever
    not untilseldom
    not oncerarely
    at no timescarcely
    by no meansno sooner

Not once was he on time.
Seldom have I heard such beautiful music.
Not only did the company lose profits, but it also had to lay off workers.

  • When the following expressions beginning with only occur at the beginning of a sentence (with these expressions, the subject and verb in that clause are inverted).
    only in (on, at, by, etc.)only recently
    only once

Only in an emergency should you use this exit.
Only recently did she return from abroad.
Only by asking questions can you learn.

  • When the following expressions beginning with only occur at the beginning of a sentence (with these expressions the subject and verb of the second clause are inverted).
    only ifonly when
    only becauseonly after
    only until

Only if you have a serious problem should you call Mr. Franklin at home.
Only when you are satisfied is the sale considered final.

  • When clauses beginning with the word so + an adjective or participle occur at the beginning of a sentence.

So rare is this coin that it belongs in a museum.
So confusing was the map that we had to ask a police officer for directions.

  • When clauses beginning with expressions of place or order occur at the start of a sentence (in these cases, the subject and main verb are inverted since auxiliary verbs are not used as they would be in most questions).

In front of the museum is a statue.
Off the coast of California lie the Channel Islands.
First came a police car; then came an ambulance.

Sample Item

Andromeda is a galaxy containing millions of individual stars, but it is ________________ Earth that it looks like a blurry patch of light.

(A) so far away from
(B) away so far from
(C) from so far away
(D) away from so far

Only choice (A) involves the correct word order for this sentence. Choices (B) and (D) are incorrect word orders in any sentence. Choice (C) could be correct in certain sentences, but is not correct in the context of this sentence.

Not only ___________ shade and beauty, but they also reduce carbon dioxide.

(A) do trees provide
(B) trees provide
(C) provide trees
(D) trees do provide

Only choice (A) correctly uses question word order after not only. Choices (B) and (C) do not use an auxiliary verb, which is required after not only. Choice (D) does not follow the correct word order: auxiliary + adjective + main verb.

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