How Not to Fall into The Subject Verb Agreement Trap – Singular and Plural Forms Used in SC Questions

by on August 12th, 2012

Have you ever felt on unsure ground as to whether the verb(s) and subject(s) in a sentence actually agree ? Have you felt confused while reading yet another rule concerning the use of singular and plural forms? The aim of today’s article will be to discuss one of the most important rules related to the use of singular and plural subjects on the GMAT.

GMAT writers can create challenging Subject Verb Agreement questions by using a subject that makes you wonder whether it is singular or plural. Let’s consider the following example:

The man Jane loves and the man who loves Jane is not the same man.

(A) the man who loves Jane is
(B) a man who loves Jane is
(C) the man who love Jane is
(D) a man who loves Jane are
(E) the man who loves Jane are

One of the first steps a student should take when seeing a verb is to ask: What is the subject? It is always easier to locate the verb first and then the subject rather than the other way around.

In this case, what is the subject? Start with the first verb you see.

The first verb is the first ‘loves’. Now ask the question: Who/what loves? Jane loves and this agrees properly. The same applies to the second ‘loves’ contained in the clause: Who/what loves? The man (the ‘who’ of course serves as a subject in lieu of the man).

So these are easy.

However, notice another verb after the clause, the verb ‘is.’

What is the subject here? Is it both men? Or is it only the first man? The second man? Jane??!!

The subject here is plural: The man Jane loves and the man who loves Jane. However, if you’re not careful or you don’t read the entire sentence, you might be fooled into thinking that the subject is singular and that it is, therefore, correct to use the singular verb.

So how do we bypass this trap? Through the help of certain clues we can notice in the sentence.

The sentence contains the conjunction “and.” Many times an “and” in a sentence should make us aware to check whether it connects more than one singular subject, thus rendering it into a plural subject and whether the verb agrees properly. Two or more nouns connected with the use of “and” NEVER take a singular verb. So it is not the last noun that the verb form corresponds to but the whole PHRASE.

Let’s solve the above question: The original Subject Verb Agreement mistake eliminates answer choices (A), (B) and (C). Answer choice (D) can be eliminated because of the unnecessary change of “the” to “a.” The correct answer is (E).

Now let’s consider other expressions which have a similar function in a sentence to that of “and.” What form should the verb take after a phrase with “as well as,” “or” and “along with”? Do they also automatically turn the subject into the plural form? Surprisingly – they DON’T! Only the word “and” makes the subject automatically plural. If other conjunctions, such as “as well as,” “or” and “along with,” connect the singular nouns that make up the subject, the subject is the FIRST NOUN ONLY.

Examples:

  1. John and Jane ARE lovers.
  2. John as well as Jane IS  American.
  3. John along with Jane GOES on vacation once a year.

Students often wonder about Subject Verb Agreement with a subject that’s made up of nouns connected by the word “or.” This is not something that’s checked on the GMAT, so you needn’t know or memorize it. However, we will give you the answer just so that you know: the verb should agree with the noun that comes AFTER “or.”

Examples:

  1. Many people or just John is...
  2. John or two women are…

Summing up, I would like to strongly encourage you to pay close attention to the conjunctions used to combine nouns into a phrase and make sure that the verb conjugation correctly agrees with the subject.

In signing off, I am leaving you with a question to solve:

The ongoing debate as to whether Pluto and its satellite, Charon, comprise a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are outside of Pluto.

A. comprise a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

B. comprises a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

C. are a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon were settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

D. comprise a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass is

E. are a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled and led to the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

33 comments

  • IMO A.

  • Answer is C

    • C is the right choice,
      because planet and its moon are two different object making it plural noun so it needs plural verb

  • Answer is C..
    A,D and E are wrong because 'a planet and its moon' is plural.
    B is straightway wrong.

  • is the answer C ?

    comprise a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

    B. comprises a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

    C. are a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon"""" were """"settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

    D. comprise a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass is

    E. are a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled and led to the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are

  • Should be A.

    C should be wrong as not the planet and its moon WERE settled but instead the ongoing debate WAS settled...

  • I think the original sentence is correct and does not violate any rules.Ongoing debate 'was' settled should be correct.

  • Answer is "A" 
    The ongoing debate
                             "as to whether Pluto and its satellite, Charon, Compromise a double                                  dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon"
    WAS settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass ARE outside of Pluto.
    i need an expert to confirm it

  • I would go with D. "discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass" AND is connecting same thing, mass.

    • Halemani-
      And is connecting two different things 1) center of mass ( Point) and portion of mass ( Volume)) ,, these both are different,,,so plural verb "are" is correct

  • Between A & D.

    I would say 'A' is correct.

  • C should be the answer 

  • I would say A.

  • ... ... settled following the discovery that ... 'and' ... 'are'

    and 

    The ongoing debate as to whether Pluto its satellite, Charon,

    Leads to A as the correct answer.

    • Sorry the comment did not come out good .. trying again ..

      ... 'debate' ... 'was' settled following the discovery that ... 'and' ... 'are'

      and 

      The ongoing debate as to whether ... 'and' ... 'comprise' 

      Leads to A as the correct answer.

  • I would go with A... because rest have S-V problem....

    even though A is best among the given options, I believe none of the options is correct because "system's center of mass and a significant portion of its mass... " the usage of 'its' is wrong as its antecedent points to 'center of mass' (noun-system has been used in possessive form) which is incorrect...

    correct me I'm wrong .... :)

  • the correct answer is A .The verb was refers to the debate so it will be singular.The subject system's center of mass and a significant portion of its mass si plural so the verb will be are.I hope it helps. 

  • An interesting question & it has Sub-Verb agreement errors in all the ans choices but two.

    IMO-A

    In the given sentence, the debate is : "whether Pluto and its satellite comprise a double dwarf planet system or  whether they comprise a planet and its moon"-->whether +Subject+ Comprise x or y

    The debate was settled following the discovery that the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass are outside of Pluto.-> means that the debate was settled after it was discovered that the system's center of mass & a significant portion of its mass are outside of pluto.

    A)CORRECT 
    Pluto & its satellite COMPRISE--> Plural sub takes plural verb
    The debate WAS settled-> singular sub takes singular verb
     the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass ARE->  Plural sub takes plural verb

    Meaning of the sentence is perfect

     B)   COMPRISES is incorrect-> Sub-Verb agreement error
     C)   - are a double dwarf planet system-> meaning is not conveyed accurately
               Actual meaning is that they consist of  a double dwarf planet system
           -  The debate "WERE"settled -> Sub-Verb agreement error 
    D) the system’s center of mass and a significant portion of its mass "IS"-> Sub-V agreement error
    E) destroys  the meaning of the sentence
        - are a double dwarf...  -> as explained in C)
        - led to the discovery that .....> Original sentence means the debate was settled following this discovery ans NOT that they led to any discovery

    • Answer is C? For mr "was settled" is wrong

    • In idiom "Whether x or y" x and y must be parallel, so in this instance x is plural and then y is plural too, so WAS is wrong verb and must be WERE. IMO answer A cant be correct. correct me if I wrong

  • IMO  A

    Good explanation KM

    • Thanks , vash_amit !

  • Of course its E.

  • A is my choice as well

  • Thanks for a very interesting discussion. You can find the correct answer and the explanations here:
    http://www.beatthegmat.com/sva-singular-and-plural-forms-t117485.html#492868

  • Sina,

    Do you mean to say , the sentence should be :

    The ongoing DEBATE as to whether Pluto and its satellite, Charon, comprise a double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon WERE settled    ?

    If you consider so, then you are compromising with the Meaning of the sentence.

    Read again:

    The debate WAS SETTLED , and NOT a planet & its moon WERE settled. Because you can't settle "a planet and its moon".

    Here, the usage of the idiom "whether x or y" is correct.
    Let me explain with few examples:

    1) I didn't get to know WHETHER they played football OR they played hockey->Grammatically CORRECT

    2) I didn't get to know WHETHER they played FOOTBALL OR HOCKEY ->Grammatically CORRECT

    3) I didn't get to know WHETHER they played football OR they went to the party--> Grammatically CORRECT

    4)  I didn't get to know WHETHER they PLAYED FOOTBALL OR WENT TO THE PARTY--> Grammatically CORRECT 

    Note that sentence 1 is unnecessarily wordy.  sentence 2 is correct even though we have removed "they played" from it.This is because "what they played" are 2 different things (football / hockey) , which must be parallel. "they played" is common,hence need not be repeated. Moreover, GMAT prefers sentences which are less wordy. In sentences 3 & 4, two different actions are parallel.

    On the other hand, choice A is actually correct from meaning perspective and C is not.

    Choice A:
    The ongoing debate as to WHETHER PLUTO AND ITS SATELLITE, Charon, COMPRISE a double dwarf planet system OR PLUTO AND ITS SATELLITE COMPRISE a planet and its moon was settled.

    We have avoided the repetition of "PLUTO & ITS SATELLITE COMPRISE", as it is understood.

    Hope this helps !

    • Hi KM,

      thank you for your correction. I already get the intended meaning of the sentence. Your explanations are clear and concise m8.

  • I think the ans A is correct:  look into the elimination,
    Subject for "comprise" is "planet and its moon" ---plural
    subject for "was" is " debate"--- singular
    subject for "are" is System's mass and its centre of mass" -----plural

  • A for me 
    Clear and concise 

  • Answer choice : C

    The "were" in answer choice relates to both the plural "a planet and its moon" and as "a double dwarf planet system OR a planet and its moon".

    I am sure the first "plural" case is pretty simple and this phrase requires a plural verb.

    In the second case, however, the conjunction "OR" will always make the verb to take the quantity form of the second phrase; in this it is - planet and its moon. Since planet AND its moon is plural, the verb takes on the plural form.

    In a concise way, it is like applying the same plural rule twice !

    • Correction !

      The right answer is A.

      1. Debate is singular and is the subject of this sentence...hence it should be followed by a singular verb IS

      2. Last phrase - system’s center of mass AND a significant portion of its mass is plural and hence will require a plural verb ARE.

  • A is correct.

    • Amusing! Seems very cheeky to use a referent from an existential either/or (double dwarf system or planet and moon), X or Y, and then include in the proof for X a sentence which uses X as the subject which has various characteristics p, q, r. Unless there is some equivocation going on with the word "system" then the omitted phrases must be something like "double dwarf planet system or a planet and its moon was settled following the discovery that it is in a fact a system because its center of mass gravity and a significant portion of its mass are outside of pluto."

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