Sentence Correction: Subject Verb Agreement on GMAT
Here is a set of free short videos for stepwise preparation of Subject Verb Agreement on GMAT. For a more detailed treatment of the topic, you may want to opt for our GMAT online course or our GMAT test series of 15 mock tests.
"And" Versus Other Conjunctions
Among conjunctions, “and” is unique. The conjunction “and” can alter the order of nouns and affect subject-verb agreement. As it is important to understand exactly how “and” differs from most other conjunctions, to tackle many GMAT sentence correction questions, we will cover these differences in detail.
How "And" is Unique Among Conjunctions
In the English language, there is only one term that can join two singular words and make them plural, and that is the word “and”. Please take a close look at the following example to understand this concept.
Example 1 - Jack and Joe are coming.
In this sentence, you can see that the nouns “Jack” and “Joe” are both singular. However the two of them are referred to by the plural verb “are”. To put it another way, in example 1, two singular entities are treated as one plural entity. This is due to the use of the word “and”, which is the only conjunction in the English language that can affect the order of nouns, in such a manner. If any other conjunction is used to link the two nouns, they will remain singular.
Example 2 - Jack, along with Joe, is coming.
In example 2, , the conjoining phrase "along with" is used. This phrase functions in a very different manner to the conjunction “and”. In this sentence, the conjoining phrase does not join the two nouns; rather “along with Joe” modifies the singular noun Jack. Therefore, the singular verb “is” must be employed.
Example 3 - Jack, accompanied by his friends, is coming.
Similar to example 3, example 2 utilizes a conjoining phrase, rather than the conjunction “and”. This phrase is “accompanied by friends”, and it modifies the singular noun "Jack"; "accompanied by" does not join "Jack" with "friends" to make a plural noun. Thus, the singular verb “is” must be used in this sentence, as well.
Understanding this subtle distinctionwill help you in your GMAT sentence correction by enabling you to identify answer choices wherein the incorrect verb form has been used. Remember, only when “and” is used to join singular words will a plural verb be used.
There Is and There Are
Here, we shall cover a particular case, wherein determining the appropriate verb form can be quite tricky; the use of “there is” and “there are”. Be sure to pay close attention to this concept, as subject verb agreement I one of the most often tested concepts on the GMAT, and although it is one of the most basic concepts of English grammar, it can be easily misunderstood.
"There Is" vs "There Are"
On the GMAT, whether the singular verb phrase "there is" or the plural verb phrase "there are" is used depends on the number of the subject that the phrase is meant to refer to. Therefore, the key to understanding which phrase is to be used is determining the intended meaning of the sentence. Of course, the same can be said for most GMAT sentence correction questions. If the subject is singular, "there is" shall be used and if the subject is plural, "there are" shall be used.
This concept is not especially complicated, in and of itself, but it can become quite complicated in certain complex sentences where it is difficult to determine whether the subject is singular or plural. Please go through the following examples, carefully, to better understand this concept.
Example 1 - There is a sparrow and a crow on the broken trunk of the ancient tree.
Now, let us examine this sentence to see whether it is correct.
The subject of example 1 is the conjoined noun phrase “a sparrow and a crow”. Most of the remaining sentence is immaterial to our purpose; we only need to pay attention to the subject and the verb phrase. Although it may seem that the correct phrase to use here is “there is” , as the verb phrase refers to two singular nouns, the sparrow and the crow, the sentence is actually incorrect. As you may have read, elsewhere on this page, when When singular nouns are joined by "and" they come together to form a plural noun phrase. Thus, in this sentence, the verb phrase will not refer to the nouns "sparrow" and "crow" individually, but rather, to both the nouns, as a collective, meaning the subject is plural and the verb phrase "there are" must be used.
The correct sentence will be, "There are a sparrow and a crow on the broken trunk of the ancient tree."
Collective, Countables, Uncountable Nouns
As already mentioned, subject verb agreement is one of the most basic and frequently tested concepts in GMAT sentence correction. Thus, you will have to master this concept, quite thoroughly, to tackle the GMAT. One important element to bear in mind is that there are certain types of nouns that always maintain the same number, regardless of the context. Here, we will cover the nature of collective, countable, and uncountable nouns, on the GMAT.
Collective Nouns are Always Singular
Collective nouns are used to refer to a group of singular nouns, as a collective entity. Thus, collective nouns are always singular. Please take a close look at the following example to understand this concept, better.
Example 1 – The government has failed to perform.
In example 1, the singular verb “has” refers to the noun “government”, because a government is a singular collective of individuals and organizations.
Example 2 – The team is doing well.
Once again, in example2, a singular noun, “is”, is used. Although a team consists of multiple people, the team itself is considered singular.
Similarly, nouns such as class, group, orchestra, crowd, jury, army, faculty, mob, herd, etc. are all singular entities that are comprised of multiple individuals and will be referred to with singular verbs.
Countable Nouns are Plural Uncountable Nouns are Singular
Countable nouns are generally plural and uncountable nouns are singular. Let us illustrate this concept, through the following examples:
Example 3 – Hair has grown.
As a singular entity, “hair” is always uncountable, as the word refers to a substance. The word “hair” can be countable but only when it refers to individual strands of hair, rather than hair as a whole.
Example 4 – Few coins are old.
By contrast, in this sentence, “coins” is referred to by the plural verb “are” because “coins” is a countable noun and, therefore, plural.
Example 5 – Some money is needed.
“Money” is an uncountable noun, whenever it is used to refer to an abstract concept, just as is the case with the noun “wealth”. This may seem confusing, but please remember that when we refer to money with a number, we are referring to a specific amount of currency denominations.
Additionally, you should also keep in mind that the word “few” is used for countable nouns and “little” is used for countable nouns, while “some” can be used for both.
Keeping these subtle distinctions in mind will help you in your GMAT sentence correction by enabling you to identify answer choices wherein the incorrect verb form has been used.
Indefinite Pronouns are Singular
On the GMAT, there are a number of stringent rules that govern the use of indefinite pronouns, which are those that do not refer to any particular thing, person, or place. Here, we will cover the use of indefinite pronouns, in detail.
Indefinite Pronouns are Singular
When attempting GMAT sentence correction questions, keep in mind that, barring some highly specific circumstances, indefinite pronouns are always singular. Please go through the following example to understand this concept, better.
Example 1 - Someone is coming.
In this sentence, “someone” is a pronoun that the sentence does not explicitly provide a noun to. Thus, it is an indefinite pronoun, meaning that it is singular and the singular verb “is” must be used.
Here are a few additional examples that you can go through to gain further clarity.
Example 2 - Nobody has come.
Example 3 - Everybody in the class is intelligent.
For reasons similar to “someone” in example 1, the pronouns “nobody” and “everybody” are also indefinite pronouns. Thus, both of these pronouns are singular and the singular verbs "has" and "is" have been used to refer to them.
There are a number of other pronouns that are also used to refer to that which is unknown and are, thus, indefinite and singular. Some of these pronouns include pronouns anybody, somebody, anything, whatever, wherever, whomever, something, no one, nothing, etc.
Many, Any, None, All, Some
Here, we shall cover a particular case, wherein determining the appropriate verb form can be quite tricky; the use of “many, any, none, all, and some”. Be sure to pay close attention to this concept, as subject verb agreement is one of the most often tested concepts on the GMAT, and although it is one of the most basic concepts of English grammar, it can be easily misunderstood.
Many, Any, None, All, Some
Many, any, none, all, some, the order of these pronouns is entirely dependent on the order of the nouns that they refer to. If one of these pronouns refers to a singular noun, then it will be singular as well, and if it refers to a plural noun, then it will be plural. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept, better.
Example 1 – Some chocolates were distributed.
The subject in this sentence is the plural noun “chocolates”; thus, the pronoun that refers to it, “some” is also considered to be plural and the plural verb “were distributed” is used to refer to it.
Example 2 – Some money was distributed.
As the noun “money” is an uncountable noun, such as the noun “wealth”, it is always considered singular. Therefore, when the pronoun “some” is used to refer to the noun “money”, in Example 2, it is considered singular and the plural verb “was distributed” is used to refer to it.
Example 3 – Are any workers coming?
In this sentence, the pronoun “any” is referring to he noun “workers”; as workers are people, they are, of course, countable. Thus, the noun “workers” is plural noun and the pronoun that refers to it, “any” will be plural as well, meaning the plural verb “are” will be used to refer to it.
Example 4 – Is any worker coming?
Unlike in example 3, this sentence uses the pronoun “any” to refer to the singular noun “worker”; thus, it is singular as well and the singular verb “is” is used to refer to it.
From these examples, you should be able to see how these five pronouns can be either singular or plural, depending on which noun they refer to.
"Either-Or" and "Neither-Nor"
Here, we will cover how to determine whether the such phrases, “either-or” and “neither-nor” are plural or singular, on the GMAT. Doing so will be vital for tackling the GMAT sentence correction questions. Pay close attention to this section, as subject verb agreement is one of the most basic grammatical concepts that you will be tested on, and a thorough understanding of such specialized phrases is a must.
Either-Or and Neither-Nor
The phrases “either or” and “neither nor” always take the form of the subject of the sentence that they are used in. If one of these phrases is used in a sentence that has multiple subjects, it will take the form of the subject that it is closest to. Please go through the following examples to understand this concept better.
Example 1 – Neither Jack, nor his friends are going to the party.
In example 1, there are two subjects, the singular noun “Jack” and the plural noun “friends”. As “neither nor” is closest to the noun “friends”, it takes on the plural form and, must be referred to with the plural verb “are” because the verb refers to the closest subject after “neither-nor”.
Example 2 – Neither his friends, nor Jack is going to the party.
In example 2, we have reversed the structure of example 1 to provide an additional perspective on this concept. . In this sentence, the singular noun “Jack” is closest to “neither-nor”; thus, it takes on the singular form and must be referred to with the plural verb “is”.Although there are multiple subjects taking an action, in this sentence, ), the verb “is” is only referring to the singular noun “Jack”. The plural noun “friends” is linked to “Jack”, through “neither-nor”.
When applied to the phrase “either or”, this concept remains virtually identical. Additionally, please keep in mind that in a sentence, the word “nor” can never be used without the word “neither”. The word “neither” can be used alone in a sentence but the word “nor” cannot. By applying this simple concept, you should be able to improve your answering speed on questions that involve these phrases.
An Exception in the Usage of "Each"
There are a number of broad rules that govern the nature of subject verb agreement, when it comes to certain specific words and phrases. However, in many cases, there are certain exceptions to these rules. Here, we shall cover an important exception to the general rule regarding the usage of the word “each” on the GMAT. Given the importance and recurrence of subject verb agreement in the GMAT sentence correction section, understanding such exceptions is very important to your performance.
As a rule, when the word “each” is used, in a sentence, a singular verb must be used. To understand this simple concept, better, please read the following example carefully.
Example 1 – Each student in this class is intelligent.
In example 1, the singular verb “is” has been used, despite the fact that it is supposed to refer to multiple students within the class. The reason behind this usage is that when the word “each” is used, the sentence refers to each student, individually. Thus, the singular verb will be used.
Now, we come to the exception. If “each” happens to be preceded by a plural noun, a plural verb must be used. Let us illustrate this concept, through the following example.
Example 2 – They each are intelligent.
In example 2, , the subject “they” has come before the word “each”. Therefore, as the pronoun “they” is plural, the plural verb “are” must be used. Example 2 differs from Example 1, in that the subject comes before the word “each” rather than after; in Example 1, the subject was the noun “student” and came after the word “each”; so, the singular verb “is” was used.
As the first usage is considerably more common, in both written and spoken English, it is considered the rule, and the second usage is considered the exception.
On a somewhat related note, there is another important aspect to the use of “each”, on the GMAT, that we should cover here. On the GMAT, the use of the word “each” is preferred over that of the word “every” because the word “every” has a much stronger connotation than the word “each” does. Remember, the GMAT favors a moderate, business-like connotation; therefore, words that have very strong connotations, either positive or negative, should be avoided.