Sentence corrections on the GMAT tests many of the same issues in subject-verb agreement as in pronoun-antecedent agreement: it’s important to distinguish singular nouns from plural ones, even when the test-makers have made it difficult to do so. For example, take a look at the first sentence of this article: there’s a mistake. The subject of that sentence is “[s]entence corrections,” which is plural, but the verb, “tests,” is singular. Because the singular “GMAT” is placed between them, the singular verb SOUNDS right, but is actually incorrect.
Let’s look at a couple more examples:
The team of football players are accompanied by their trainer and head coach.
This sentence demonstrates the same common trick, which is that a singular subject (team) is associated with a plural noun (players); a plural verb (are) is then placed next to that plural noun, and the unwary test-taker, relying on his or her sense of what “sounds right,” is lulled into thinking that the sentence is correct as written.
Incidentally, there’s a second, similar issue here: the pronoun-antecedent problem. While the test tricks you into thinking that “team of football players” agrees with a plural verb, it also throws in the plural pronoun “their.” The correct possessive pronoun for a singular entity like a team is “its.” The correct version of the sentence above should look like this:
The team of football players is accompanied by its trainer and head coach.
Another trick that can cause subject-verb agreement problems is the insertion of a modifying phrase between the subject and verb, which distracts from the proper agreement. This sentence illustrates how that can happen:
A dance studio, which will offer a wide variety of classes, are opening near my house.
The subject here is “[a] dance studio,” which is singular. The phrase “which will offer a wide variety of classes” is offset by commas, so we know that the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and is instead a modifying phrase. The best way to check subject-verb agreement in a sentence like this is by “lifting out” that modifying phrase and reading the sentence without it.
Therefore, we can read it like this:
A dance studio are opening near my house.
Now we can see much more clearly that the singular subject and the plural verb do not agree. We should use “is,” not “are,” as the verb in this sentence.
How do we handle it, though, when we see a more complicated sentence on the GMAT? The key is to break the sentence into smaller pieces and address each piece individually until you can clearly identify any subject-verb agreement problems.
Here’s an example:
Despite Leslie’s complaints, the Co-Op Housing Membership Board, which is made up of representatives from all five of the building’s floors, haven’t made any effort to disseminate standard rules of conduct for pet owners.
The two modifying phrases here—“[d]espite Leslie’s complaints” and “which is made up of representatives from all five of the building’s floors”—obscure the subject and the verb, and make the subject-verb disagreement more difficult to identify. As we saw previously, “lifting” those modifying phrases out and reading around them can help. However, here we also have the issue of a singular noun (the Co-Op Housing Membership Board) that sounds plural, since it’s made up of multiple people, but is in fact singular. Therefore, the plural verb “haven’t” is incorrect as used in this sentence. There are a couple of ways to fix this, each of them equally viable as an answer choice on the GMAT.
1) Despite Leslie’s complaints, the Co-Op Housing Membership Board, which is made up of representatives from all five of the building’s floors, hasn’t made any effort to disseminate standard rules of conduct for pet owners.
2) Despite Leslie’s complaints, the Co-Op Housing Membership Board representatives, who come from all five of the building’s floors, haven’t made any effort to disseminate standard rules of conduct for pet owners.
In the first version, we replace the plural “haven’t” with the singular “hasn’t”; in the second, the singular “Co-Op Housing Membership Board” becomes the plural “Co-Op Housing Membership Board representatives.” Either one works as a correction here.
In closing, remember that on GMAT sentence corrections, you should not only keep your eyes open to detect errors that might seem fine at first glance, but should also keep your mind open to unexpected methods for correcting those errors.
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