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Subject-Verb Agreement on GMAT Sentence Correction

The broad topic of Agreement on GMAT Sentence Correction covers two general areas: (a) the agreement of pronouns and their antecedents, the subject of another post; and (b) subject-verb agreement, the subject of this post.  To begin, here are a few exemplary practice SC problems.

1) The People’s Republic of China, having 1.3 billion people,  with many of which living in outlying rural areas far to the west of Beijing, often have been considered as an emerging superpower.

(A) having 1.3 billion people,  with many of which living in outlying rural areas far to the west of Beijing, often have been considered as

(B) having 1.3 billion people,  many living in outlying rural areas far to the west of Beijing, often has been considered as

(C) with 1.3 billion people,  many living in outlying rural areas far to the west of Beijing, often has been considered

(D) with 1.3 billion people, with many of them living in outlying rural areas far to the west of Beijing, often have been considered

(E) with 1.3 billion people, with many living in outlying rural areas far to the west of Beijing, often has been considered to be

 

2) Until the time of Cantor’s work on set theory in the 1870s, no serious mathematician anywhere in the world, even the giants in the field, like Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss, were able to appreciate that infinity can be studied with rigorous precision.

(A) even the giants in the field, like Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss, were

(B) not even the giants in the field, such as Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss, were

(C) not the giants in the field, like Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss, was

(D) even the giants in the field, such as Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss, were

(E) not even the giants in the field, such as Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss, was

 

3) Dostoevsky, whose novels plumbed highly philosophical themes, Nietzsche had a background in classical philology that gave him a unique perspective toward the Western Philosophical tradition, and the Danish Christian writer Kierkegaard were considered the founders of Existentialism.

(A) Nietzsche had a background in classical philology that gave him a unique perspective toward the Western Philosophical tradition, and the Danish Christian writer Kierkegaard were considered the founders

(B) Nietzsche had a background in classical philology giving him a unique perspective toward the Western Philosophical tradition, and the Danish Christian writer Kierkegaard was considered the founder

(C) Nietzsche, whose background in classical philology gave him a unique perspective on the Western Philosophical tradition, and the Danish Christian writer Kierkegaard was considered the founder

(D) Nietzsche, whose background in classical philology gave him a unique perspective on the Western Philosophical tradition, and the Danish Christian writer Kierkegaard were considered the founders

(E) Nietzsche, who had had a background in classical philology that was giving him a unique perspective with the Western Philosophical tradition, and the Danish Christian writer Kierkegaard was considered the founder

 

4) Neither the W± and Z particles, the massive gauge bosons of the Weak interaction, and like the gluon, do not act over distances larger than the scale of the atom.

(A) and like the gluon, do not act

(B) and like the gluon, act

(C) nor the gluon, does not act

(D) nor the gluon, act

(E) nor the gluon, acts

 

Verbs & agreement

The four major properties of verbs are tense, mood, voice, and number.  There are all kinds of tenses, including perfect tenses and progressive tenses.  For more on verb mood, read about the subjunctive.  For more about voice (i.e. active vs. passive), read those posts.

Verb number has to do with whether the verb is singular or plural — for example, “has” is singular and “have” is plural.  This distinction is present in the simple present tense for all verbs (“she has” vs. “they have“), but not in the simple future for any verb (“he will have” & “they will have“) and not in the simple past (“she had” & “they had“) for any verb other than forms of “to be” (“he was” vs. “they were“).  In other tenses, whether verb number is an issue depends on the auxiliary verbs of that tense.

Quite simply, in cases in which distinctions of verb number are meaningful, singular subjects must have singular verbs, and plural subjects must have plural verbs.  Very easy, right?  Well, true, as long as we have very simple sentences (“The dog is hungry” vs. “The dogs are hungry“), then everything is peachy.  Of course, this is not where the story of Agreement on the GMAT Sentence Correct ends!

 

Collective nouns

One tricky issue concerns collective nouns.  A collective noun is any noun that represents a larger category containing several people or items.  Collective nouns include places where people live (city, county, state, country, etc.); teams; companies; organizations; armies; committees; clubs; political parties; baggage; collections; categories; assemblages; etc.  If I say “France” or “IBM” or “the United States Navy” or “the Greek Orthodox Church“, all of those are categories that contain a large number of people, but all of them are singular nouns, and therefore demand both singular verbs and singular pronouns.  Folks think of all the people within those categories and are tempted to use plural verbs and plural pronouns: this is one of the GMAT favorite traps.

aogsc_img1

Be careful with this, especially when the subject and the verb or pronoun are separated by long modifying clauses.  One of the questions above exploits this particular trap.

Notice also, some collective nouns, especially sports teams names (e.g. “the New York Mets!!!”) are expressed as plurals, and this trap is not relevant for these.

 

Subject with “and” or “or”

If two or more nouns are joined by the word “and”, then they all are part of the subject, so of course, the subject is plural and takes a plural verb.  Be careful if the subject P and Q is separated —- P [long modifying clause] and Q.

The word “or” and its cousins “either … or” and “neither … nor” are a little trickier.  If both pieces are singular, then use a singular verb.  If both pieces are plural, then use a plural verb.  What if we have one singular term and one plural term joined by “or” or one of its cousin?  This is one of the more mind-blowing and anti-intuitive rules in all of grammar.  If the two pieces of an “or” construction differ in number, then the verb number reflects the noun nearest to the verb.

aogsc_img2

 

Subject with indefinite modifiers

We can talk about “no student“, “some students“, “most students“, “each student“, “every student“, or “all students“.  It’s pretty easy to figure out — the ones that have “student” are singular and the ones that have “students” are plural.  This becomes trickier if a modifying phrase or clause intervenes (“no student, not even ….”, “each student, including …”), but of course, whether the nouns in the modifier are singular or plural doesn’t affect the verb — the verb must agree in number with the subject and only the subject.

When indefinites are used as pronouns, things get very dicey.  Some, such as “each” or “every“, are always singular.   For other (all, none, some, any, more, most), the relevant noun, often the object of the preposition “of“, will reveal the number of the pronoun.  For example — “all of the students“, “none of the students“, “some of the students“, “any of the students“, “more of the students“, “most of the students” — all plural; “all of the cake“, “none of the cake“, “some of the cake“, “any of the cake“, “more of the cake“, “most of the cake” — all singular.  For more information, see Indefinite Pronouns and Agreement.

 

Summary

If you had any “aha!” moments while reading this, you may want to revisit the questions above before reading the solutions below.  Here’s another question, from inside the Magoosh product:

7) http://gmat.magoosh.com/questions/3273

If you would like to share any thoughts, let us know in the comment section below. 🙂

aogsc_img3

 

Explanations for practice problems

1) Split #1: China has a ton of people, but the name of the country itself is singular.  Singular subject demands a singular verb, “has been“.  Answers with the plural verb, “have been“, (A) & (D), are incorrect.

Split #2: idiom with “considered” — The structures “consider P as Q” and “consider P to be Q” are both idiomatically incorrect.  The correct idiom is “consider P Q“, with no preposition or intervening words between the two nouns.  Only choices (C) & (D) have this correct.

Split #3: the structure of the modifier.  What happens after the word “people” varies —

(A)with many of which living …” — very awkward, not correct

(B)many living …” — correct & elegant, an absolute phrase

(C)many living …” — correct & elegant, an absolute phrase

(D)with many of them living …” — very awkward, not correct

(E)with many living …” — awkward, not acceptable on the GMAT

The only possible answer is (C).

2) Split #1: the subject, “no serious mathematician“, is singular.  Thus, it demands a singular verb, “was“.  Choices (A) & (B) & (D) make the mistake of using “were“, so these are incorrect.

Split #2: listing examples.  For a list of examples, the GMAT disapproves of “like“, and prefers “such as“.  The choices that use “like Leonard Euler and Karl Gauss” are incorrect.  Choices (A)(C) make this mistake.

Split #3a: logic mistake.  After the comma after “no serious mathematician“, we need to repeat the negative. Choices (A) & (D) don’t do that.

Split #3b: a subtle logic mistake involving the word “even“.  If we say, “no serious mathematicians anywhere in the world, not giants such as Euler and Gauss“, then something is funny —- the phrase “serious mathematicians anywhere in the world” sounds like a large inclusive category, but “giants such as Euler and Gauss” sounds like a smaller elite group.  Without the word “even“, we are equating these two groups, and something is awkward and not right about this.  Including the word “even” resolves this problem: it clearly distinguishes the larger, more inclusive category, from the special case elite group.  The correct answer needs to include the word “even“.  This is another problem with answer choice (C).

The only possible answer is (E).

3) Split #1: Parallelism.  The three men must be in parallel.  Dostoevsky is followed simply by a noun modifier, so Nietzsche can’t have his own full verb — choices (A) & (B) make this mistake.  The other choices correctly follow “Dostoevsky, [noun modifier]” with “Nietzsche [noun modifier]”.

Split #2: The three nouns, in parallel joined by “and“, are a compound subject.  This subject — Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard — requires a plural verb “were considered the founders“.  Choices with the singular version, “was considered the founder“, are incorrect.   Choices (B) & (C) & (E) make this mistake.

Split #3: the idiom with perspective.  The correct idiom is “perspective on“, not “perspective toward” or “perspective with”.  Only (C) & (D) get this correct.

Split #4: verb tenses.  In choice (E), the verbs “had had” and “that was giving” are not correct for this context.   This is another problem with answer choice (E).

The only possible answer is (D).

4) A fun question about particle physics!

Split #1a: the correct idiom is “neither … nor“. Since the  “neither” appears before the underlined section, we absolutely need a “nor” in the underlined section.   Having a “neither” with “like” in the place of “nor” is incorrect, and choices (A) & (B) make this mistake.

Split #1b: given the structure “neither [plural] nor [singular]”, we need a singular verb.  Choice (D) has the plural verb “act”, so it is incorrect.

Split #2: the “not” in choice (A) is unclear, because the structure of (A) is inherently incorrect, but the “not” in choice (C) is clearly a double negative: this changes the meaning and is wrong.

The only possible answer is (E).

 

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18 Responses to Subject-Verb Agreement on GMAT Sentence Correction

  1. Devansh Naidu September 8, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    Hello Experts ! 🙂

    Thanks a lot for this awesome article. I do have a doubt. What should we do if the collective noun is a country, should we go with the singular verb?
    Same question for the term “People”

    Also, does the presence of article “the” influence the subject verb number ?

    Also I’ve read some where that in American English, collective nouns are considered singular and in British English, they are considered plural. Therefore, gmat could take of it in any way…..

    I would really appreciate it if you could clear this thing once and for all…

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

      For “people” we go with a plural verb. (People do, a person does.) Collective nouns for countries nearly always have singular verbs. You’d say “the United States is,” and “the Netherlands is,” not “the United States are”/”the Netherlands are.”

      “The” doesn’t really influence subject/verb number, plurality, or singularity. “The” has a pretty complex relationship with nouns and thus the verbs that follow them. If you’re curious, you can check this post on our TOEFL Blog for an in-depth look at “the.”

      The GMAT favors American English over British English, so collective nouns will be singular on the exam.

      Hopefully I’ve cleared this up for you. Clearing all of these matters up once and for all— on or off the GMAT and across the English-speaking world– would be a completely different feat, of course. 😉

  2. Sonu March 31, 2016 at 7:35 am #

    Hi Mike

    In the article above, in the last paragraph you have mentioned the following phrases as plural:

    “none of the students“ and “any of the students”

    But shouldn’t they be singular? I feel “none of the students” = no student, which sounds singular. Please help us understand this part better.

    Thanks. 🙂

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 3, 2016 at 10:52 pm #

      Hi Sonu,

      Happy to help! 🙂

      The key here is this sentence: For other (all, none, some, any, more, most), the relevant noun, often the object of the preposition “of“, will reveal the number of the pronoun.

      These pronouns are sometimes plural and sometimes singular. Many grammar resources–including dictionaries–will verify this. So in the case that you encounter pronouns like this, you will need to see what the noun is that is associated with them to determine whether it is plural or singular.

      I hope that helps! 🙂

  3. Anirudha March 9, 2016 at 3:06 am #

    Dear Mike:
    In your answer to Abhinav, You said that collective nouns are never followed by plural verb, but what about the sentence “The jury are divided in their opinion” I think it sounds better than “Individual jury members are divided in their pinion.” Please advice

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 10, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      Hi Anirudha,

      The best option would be to write “The jury members are divided in their opinion.” We don’t need the word “individual.” This is succinct and clear.

  4. Suk March 8, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

    Hi Mike, I was just going through your video “Subject Verb Agreement 1″ . At about 6 mins into the video there is a sentence you’ve posted – ” The consecutive prime minister and also the opposition leader ……..”. Isnt “and also” together incorrect on the GMAT?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 10, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

      Hi Suk,

      Yes, this would be wrong on a GMAT SC question — I think Mike included the “also” for purely pedagogic reasons, but you are correct 🙂

  5. Abhinav January 3, 2015 at 3:26 am #

    Hi Mike, Thanks for all this information. I have been following you since some time now and really appreciate all your effort and contribution to the online GMAT queries. Your explanation leaves no doubt in ones mind for the question. I have a query regarding collective noun. Though, I understand that a collective noun is almost always used as singular(mainly in GMAT), I just need some insight on the use of collective noun as a plural subject as in the sentence – The team are eating with their families tonight.

    Thanks in advance for any input regarding this query. Just want to understand what kind of construction is this? Is it right to write this way? If yes, how can one recognize similar construction in GMAT(if comes)?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike January 3, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      Dear Abhinav,
      My friend, I don’t know that I have ever seen a sentence on the GMAT on which a collective noun used as plural is correct. The sentence you cite, “The team are eating with their families tonight,” is a trainwreck. It is not correct at all: it has both SVA problems and pronoun agreement problems. We would really have to re-write to correct all the problems: “Tonight, the individual team members are dining with their families.” Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  6. Barshon September 23, 2014 at 1:03 am #

    which one is correct? “all of furnitures are polished” or “all of furnitures is polished?” whats the rules for this?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike September 23, 2014 at 10:06 am #

      Dear Barshon,
      I’m happy to help. 🙂 The problem here is that, at least in American and British English, the word “furniture” is never used in the plural. The singular word “furniture” is use to refer to any number of individual pieces (a chair, a table, a bookshelf, etc.) Even though it typically refers to a large number of countable items, the word is always used in the singular. Thus “all of the furniture” would also be singular, and would take a singular verb.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

      • Barshon September 24, 2014 at 2:17 am #

        That means “all of” doesn’t determine the singularity or plurality; what word comes after “all of” determines the number; i.e- “all of X”, X detemine(s) the number. Isn’t it?

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike September 24, 2014 at 10:20 am #

          Dear Barshon,
          Precisely, my friend! What you said is 100% correct. 🙂 The structure “all of,” by itself, tells us zilch about singular vs. plural: it all depends on what follows:
          All of the milk IS gone.
          All of the cookies ARE gone.

          Does all this make sense?
          Mike 🙂

  7. Shailendra August 9, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Multiple questions on # 1 —

    1) I see for the Country (China) we could say “with 1.3 billion people” – as “with phrase” defines the characteristic of China. Am I right ?

    2) Can we also say, “having 1.3 billion people” ? Or something wrong logically if we do so ?

    3) In what cases for “people” also we can say “with X” ? Is following right —

    People, with red flags in their hand, marched towards Parliament.

    4) Essentially I am trying to conclude “with phrase” always defines a characteristic of its referent and there is no other use of “with phrase”. Am I right ?

    Two questions on #4 —

    1) Do we need Neither…nor structure always, whenever Neither is present ? Or there are exceptions in which only one of them can appear ?

    2) Is double negation always wrong with Neither…Nor or there are certain examples for that exception ?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 9, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

      Dear Shailendra

      1.1-1.2 both “with 1.3 B people” and “having 1.3 B people” are correct.
      1.3 It’s awkward to set the prepositional phrase off with commas — just say the whole sentence with no comma breaks: “People with red flags in their hand marched towards Parliament.”
      1.4 A “with” phrase could be an adjectival phrase or an adverbial phrase. See:
      http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/gmat-grammar-adjectival-phrases-and-clauses/
      http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/gmat-grammar-adverbial-phrases-and-clauses/

      4.1 On the GMAT, every “neither” will be followed by a “nor”. You can have “nor” without a “neither” — “nor” just means “and …. not”
      4.2 For GMAT purposes, double negatives are always wrong. If you have a “neither … nor”, that’s one negative, so you can’t have another.

      Mike 🙂

      • Shailendra August 9, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

        Thanks Mike for your quick, helpful response.

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike August 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

          Dear Shailendra,
          You are quite welcome. Best of luck to you.
          Mike 🙂


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