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GMAT Sentence Correction: Indefinite Pronouns and Agreement

To begin, a few new GMAT Sentence Correction practice questions.

1) After a dip caused by Congressional embroilment, many growth stocks are beginning to resume their previous levels, but some, hampered by a general stagnancy in the economy, is returning with a speed that is less than they would expect.

A. is returning with a speed that is less than they would expect

B. is returning with a slower speed than expected

C. are returning more slowly than expected

D. are returning more slowly than they would expect

E. are returning with a speed less than expected

2) All of the university’s faculty is appalled by the decision to hire as university president the senator censured for influence peddling, but some are willing to extend for him a civil welcome.

A. are willing to extend for

B. is willing to extend to

C. are willing to extend to

D. is willing for extending to

E. are willing for extending for

3) The genetic code of hominids accounts not only for all current human diversity but also the differences between modern humans as opposed to earlier hominids, and yet most are identical to the genetic code of chimpanzees.

A. the differences between modern humans as opposed to earlier hominids, and yet most are

B. the differences of modern humans with earlier hominids, and yet most is

C. for the differences of modern humans from earlier hominids, and yet most is

D. for the differences of modern humans from earlier hominids, and yet most are

E. for the differences of modern humans with earlier hominids, and yet most is

Explanations will come at the end of this article.

 

Indefinite pronouns and modifiers

Here’s a list of the indefinite pronouns in English: some, someone, somebody, something; any, anyone, anybody, anything; either; none, no one, nobody, nothing; neither; each; both; all; everyone, everybody, everything.   Here’s a list of the indefinite modifiers: some; any; either; no; neither; all; both; each; every.  The GMAT likes probing a few tricky issues regarding these words.

 

Indefinite Pronouns and Subject-Verb Agreement

The modifiers will be modifying a noun, so you can always look at that noun to determine singular or plural.  Things get a little trickier with the indefinite pronouns: many are always singular, only one is always plural, and the rest depend on context.

Any of the indefinite that end in –body, –thing, or  –one (including  “no one“)are always singular.  The others that are always singular are: either, neither, each, and none.  As a  pronoun, the word both is always plural.   For those, subject-verb agreement is very straightforward.  “Each is …”  “Both are ….”

What about the others?  These others, the pronouns some, any, and all, are very tricky.   Think of it this way.  Each of these will have, explicitly or implicitly, an “of ____” modifier, and if the word following “of” is singular or plural, then these four adjectives take on the number (singular or plural) of that noun.  If the “of” statement follows the adjective explicitly, then it’s relatively easy:

Some of the people are …”

Some of the money is ….”

All of the time has ….”

All of the birds have …”

Things are not so obvious in a sentence in which the qualifying “of” preposition is implied by something, usually another “of” prepositional phrase, somewhere earlier in the sentence.

Most of the X blah blah blah, but some is/are ….

It’s not unusual to have one indefinite pronoun in the first half of the sentence with a qualifying “of” prepositional phrase, and then a second indefinite pronoun in the second half, implicitly referring to the same qualifying prepositional phrase.   We have to look for the indefinite in the first half, and identify the appropriate object of the “of” preposition: that noun will determine whether the indefinite in the second half of the sentence is singular or plural.

Most of the cars blah blah blah, but some are …..

Most of the gasoline blah blah blah, but some is ….

 

More on S-V agreement

One way to frame the above information is with the countable/uncountable distinction.  As a general rule, if the pronoun some, any, or all is followed by an uncountable noun, it is singular, but if it is followed by a countable noun, it is plural.

This raises the issue of the comparative words associated with quantity: more, less, fewer, most, little.  The words less and little are used only with uncountable nouns, so as pronouns, they will always be singular.  The word fewer is used only with countable nouns, so as a pronouns, it will always be plural

Blah blah blah, but less is ….

Blah blah blah, but little is ….

Blah blah blah, but fewer are

The words more and most share the same ambiguity that our quartet of indefinite pronouns here have.   Both words, more and most, can refer either to countable or uncountable nouns, and we have to classify the noun in order to determine whether these words are singular or plural.

All people blah blah blah, but most are not ….

All of the ocean blah blah blah, but most is not ….

Some mammals blah blah blah, but most have ….

Some of the forest blah blah blah, but most has ….

Caveat #1: These are the general rules.  When the words “none” or “any” are followed by “of” [countable nouns], the  logic of the sentence demands a singular construction.

Any of the three candidates interviewed is a good fit for this position. 

Both “none” (i.e. “no one”) and “any” (i.e. “any one”) are singular.

Caveat #2: As with all S-V Agreement, beware of collective nouns.   A collective noun (a company, a team, a group of any sort) consists of several individuals, but the collective noun itself is singular.  It takes a singular verb and a singular pronoun.   For the purposes of the fore-going conversation, a collective noun acts as an uncountable noun when combined with an indefinite pronoun — therefore, the indefinite pronouns some, any, none, or all would be singular.

Some of the company is …

Any of the church is ….

None of the union is ….

All of the electorate is …

Caveat #3: The word “majority” deserves special discussion. To some extent, it is like “more” and “most” above, taking its number from the noun it represents, but that’s not the whole story.  Instead, it’s very tricky because it also depends on context.  If we are making a statement that emphasizes the unity of this group, then we treat the “majority” as a singular block and give it a singular verb.

The majority of US Senate is opposed to the President’s nomination.

The majority of inner city regions in the state is suffering under a statewide recession.

By contrast, if we want to emphasize the individuality of the members of the majority, either because the statement discusses something about the individual members separately, or because different parts are doing different things, then the word is considered plural and takes a plural verb.

The majority of US Senators hold law degrees from prestigious institutions.

The majority of the university faculty have formed into factions, some supporting the university’s president, and others calling for his ouster.

Everything said here about “majority” is also true of the less frequently used words “minority” and “plurality.

 

Summary

Obviously, this topic is rife with opportunities for errors.  Pay attention whenever you see these particular words: predictable GMAT snares will be lying in wait.  If you had an “aha!” while reading this article, take another look at the practice question above before reading the solution.   If you would like to express anything, or would like to ask a question, please let us know in the comment section at the bottom.

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Explanations for practice questions

1) Split #1: SV Agreement.   The pronoun “some” is the subject of the second half of the sentence.   What is the implicit  phrase: some of what?   By “some”, this sentence means “some growth stocks”.  Growth stocks are countable, and some of them would be plural, so we need the plural verb “are”.  Choices (A) & (B) are incorrect.

Split #2: Mystery pronoun.  A couple choices provided a subject to the verb “expected”: unfortunately, this is the pronoun “they” with no antecedent.   The mysterious “they” who are expecting something are not identified.  On the GMAT, this is unacceptable.   Choices (A) & (D) make this mistake.

Split #3: speed.   If P is moving faster than Q, how do we describe Q?  It is unnecessarily wordy to say Q moves “with a speed less than” P, or, even worse, Q moves “with a speed that is less than” P.  Those are the poor choices of (E) & (A) respectively.   Choice (B) has “with a slower speed than” —- arguably, “slower speed” verges on the redundant.   The most direct way to say this is: Q moves “more slowly than” P.

For all these reasons, (C) is perfectly correct and it is the only possible answer.

2) Split #1: SV Agreement.   The subject of the second clause, “some”, refers back to the “the university’s faculty”.  This is a collective noun.   While there are many faculty members, the faculty is singular, and “all of the faculty” or “some of the faculty” must be singular as well.  Notice the singular verb in the first half of the sentence.  The second must be singular as well.  Choices (A) & (C) & (E) are incorrect.

Split #2a: idiom with “willing”.  The adjective “willing” take an infinitive: willing to do X.   The structure “willing for doing X” is never correct.   Choices (D) & (E) make this mistake.

Split #2b: idiom with “extend”.  When we give someone a welcome, we say that we extend the welcome to him.  Use of “for” in this context is never correct.   Choices (A) & (E) make this mistake.

For all these reasons, (B) is the only possible answer.

3) Split #1: the once outside or twice inside construction.  It would be correct to say “for not only P but also Q”, or to say “not only for P but also for Q.”  The “for” comes after “not only” in the non-underlined part of the sentence, so this means we must choose the “twice inside” structure.  Another “for” must follow the words “but also”.   Choice (A) & (B) are incorrect.

Split #2: the idiom with “difference.”   The correct idioms are “difference between P and Q“ or “difference of P from Q”.  The structures “difference between P as opposed to Q” and “difference of P with Q” are abominably incorrect.  Choice (A) & (B) (E) are incorrect.

Split #3: SV Agreement.  The subject of the second clause is the word “most” — most what?  Most of “the genetic code of hominids“, which is singular.  We need the singular verb “is“.   Choice (A) & (D) are incorrect.

For all these reasons, (C) is the only possible answer.

 

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