Pseudo Plural Analysis in SC Sometimes Get to Me

by on September 14th, 2012

Today’s article will be devoted to two groups of nouns that appear to be plural but are actually singular and that are commonly confused by test-takers.

Did you by any chance notice the title? Does it seem grammatically correct to you? Read on!

There are TWO reasons why a singular subject might seem to be plural:

1. Subject ends with -s and, therefore, seems to be in the plural form.

The following words are considered singular subjects although they end with -s: news, thesis, hypothesis, crisis, analysis, politics, physics, mathematics, economics, ethics, athletics, etc.

Example: The crisis was solved.

2. It is a collective noun which refers to a group

Collective nouns are nouns which refer to more than one person/animal. They are singular subjects, although they represent a group. The following words are examples of common collective nouns: audience, committee, congregation, family, flock, group, staff, team, pack, swarm, the Philippines (countries, cities, etc are always singular even if ending in ‘s’ because each country is 1 collective) etc.

Example: The team is playing really well tonight.

The opposite occurs with the police, which is thought to be singular but is actually plural. Also, what is worth underlining, the noun “police” is always preceded by the article “the.”

Having revised all these seemingly basic rules, we can now try to apply them to the following example:

Bioethics are the philosophical studies of the ethical controversies brought about by advances in biology and medicine.

A. are the philosophical studies of the ethical controversies brought about

B. are the philosophical study of the ethical controversies brought

C. is the philosophical study of the ethical controversies brought about

D. is the philosophical studies of the ethical controversies which were brought about

E. is the philosophical studies of ethical controversies that are brought about

The first thing that comes to one’s mind when reading the question above is the use of the word “bioethics.” We can see it is a noun that ends with -s. This detail should make us wary of a potential trap set by test- makers. Since we know that not all nouns ending with -s are plural, we should pay special attention to the word “bioethics” and make sure that the verb which follows is in the correct singular form. This is what we call a ‘stop sign’ or a kind of red flag that should make you momentarily hesitate and ask the appropriate questions.

We have already visited subject-verb agreement previously and the rule remains the same. It is easier to locate the verb first and then find the subject. Why? Well in this instance, if we use intuition and merely and generally glance at the sentence, look what happens: All the main nouns (almost!) are in the plural form (studies, controversies, advances) and so why shouldn’t Bioethics be plural. We are so ‘programmed’ and take such things so much for granted that we may not even notice! Ahh the silly little traps…. So let’s break it down.

Answers A and B are grammatically incorrect. We see the verb are and see that the subject is bioethics. Do they agree? No!

Answers C, D, and E all fix the original agreement error. So what gives?

Answer C seems fine as all the subjects agree with their verbs and we have no stylistic issues.

Answer choice D is illogical. Since “bioethics” is singular, it cannot be said to be ‘philosophical studies’, which is plural. Remember too that nouns have to agree with each other; plural goes with plural and singular with singular.

In other words, one cannot say that the entire field of bioethics is a certain, specific collection or number of completed studies. Bioethics is also the active ongoing action of studying and posing ethical questions about medical practice. This is why it does not make sense to describe bioethics only as “studies”, and it is more sensible to describe bioethics as the study of, etc.

Furthermore, adding the words “which were” creates redundancy.

Answer E also corrects the original Subject Verb Agreement mistake but is also illogical. Furthermore, adding the words “that are” creates redundancy/wordiness.

We are left with C, which is indeed the correct answer as it corrects the subject verb agreement mistake and has no stylistic flaws.

Key takeaways:

  1. Remember to pay special attention to the nouns ending with -s and always check whether they are really plural.
  2. Be on the lookout for the word “the police” and make sure it is preceded by the article “the” and followed by a plural verb.
  3. Always check Subject Verb Agreement when you notice a collective noun in the question, e.g. family. A group is always singular (unless put into its plural form of course!).

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

Introduced into the College of Engineering only five years ago, ergonomics have by now become an extremely popular specialization; this trend can be partially understood as reflecting safety’s importance in the workplace.

A. have by now become an extremely popular specialization; this trend can be partially understood as reflecting safety’s importance in the workplace

B. has by now becoming an extremely popular specialization; this trend can be partially understood as a reflection of safety’s importance in the workplace

C. have by now becoming an extremely popular specialization; this can be partially understood as a reflection of the importance of safety in the workplace

D. having now become an extremely popular specialization; this can be partially understood as a reflection of the importance of workplace safety

E. has now become an extremely popular specialization; this trend can be partially understood as reflecting the importance of safety in the workplace

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