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Key GMAT Sentence Correction Concepts: Subject-Verb Agreement

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 @ 11:39 AM

gmat verbal testSentence Correction is the only part of the GMAT Verbal section where you can truly acquire new skills and knowledge to improve your score.

Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension are more a matter of the long term investment you’ve made in reading and writing critically throughout your life, supplemented by the amount of near term practice and “developed intuition” you build as you study for the GMAT and refine your skills to apply them to this particular test. In other words, on these sections, there are fewer “magic bullets” that, once placed into your pistol, will quickly improve your GMAT verbal score.

Luckily, the sentence correction section offers more opportunities to relatively quickly improve your GMAT verbal score. Careful and deliberate study will pay dividends. 

Sentence Correction questions look like this: 

The Glass House Mountains in Queensland, Australia, were sighted in 1770 by the English navigator Captain James Cook, by whom they were named supposedly because its sheer wet rocks glistened like glass.

(A)      by whom they were named supposedly because its

(B)      by whom they were named supposedly and their

(C)      naming them supposedly since their

(D)      who so named them supposedly because their

(E)      who so named it since supposedly their 

The five choices represent ways the underlined portion of the sentence may be rewritten. Choice (A) represents the sentence as is – i.e. no change is needed. Your job is to Select the answer that produces the most effective sentence; your answer should make the sentence clear, exact, and free of grammatical error. It should also minimize awkwardness, ambiguity, and redundancy.

In essence, you should be concerned with three things: Grammar, Meaning, and Style.

Grammar trumps every other consideration, though it is often very much tied to meaning. Style is the last thing to look at, but it can be the focus of the question.

Let’s breeze through some of the major grammatical concepts you need to master with a brief look at what the GMAT considers good style in the context of effective business writing. 

Subject-Verb Agreement

Our first major concept is subject-verb agreement. As the name implies, a sentence is written incorrectly if the verb used does not “agree” with the subject. However, it is sometimes not clear what or who the subject of the sentence is, and therefore what form of the verb one should use.

For the most part this concept will come naturally if you are a native speaker of English.

Native speakers acquire these skills along with the rest of their language effortlessly. You probably never thought about the conjugation of verbs until you started to learn another language. You say “I drive” instead of “I drives” without really knowing why. One is just obviously correct while the other is obviously not. 

But, even if you are a native speaker, the GMAT is a nefarious character who will do its best to trip you up in the following ways: 

1)   It may muddy the waters with a prepositional phrase, a subordinate clause, or some sort of modifier.

  1. Prepositional Phrase: At the zoo the snakes are kept in glass cases.

                                               i.     “Snakes” is the subject, not “zoo.” SKIP THE INTRO

  1. Subordinate Clause: The little league baseball diamonds, which are on the south side of the park, are also used for the adult slow-pitch softball league.

                                               i.     Subordinate clauses are not complete sentences. They often begin with “who” or “which” and are surrounded by commas when they appear in the middle of a sentence. In the example, “baseball diamonds” is the subject, not “park,” so the verb must be plural. CUT THE FAT

2)   Collective nouns are nouns that represent a group containing more than one thing but which are nevertheless singular. For example:

  1. The army is moving south
  2. The orchestra was disbanded
  3. Other examples: class, school, citrus, baggage, crowd, committee…

3)   SANAM pronouns (some, any, none, all, more(most)) are singular unless the context dictates a plural verb.

4)   Each and Every are both singular pronouns.

5)   Either X or Y followed by a verb: The noun (in this case Y) closest to the verb controls the number of the verb.

  1. Neither John nor his students are tired of studying for the GMAT
  2. Either the students or the teacher is responsible for the dismal scores on the common core assessment.

In our next article on key GMAT sentence correction strategies, we’ll cover diction, a concept concerned with choosing the proper words in a sentence.

About the Authors

This article was written by MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz, a 2010 graduate of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. However, it pulls very heavily from materials developed for MyGuru’s small group GMAT prep class. These materials were written by John Easter, one of MyGuru’s senior GMAT tutors in Chicago, the instructor for this class, and the founder of Jedi Prep.


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