GMAT Sentence Correction: Logical Approach to Subject-Verb Agreement Sample Question

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in GMAT Sample Questions

In our post on logical approach to Sentence Correction(go ahead and read it first if you have not done so yet), we covered some questions of subject-verb agreement that are usually tested on GMAT. Now we are going to look at how to tackle a Sentence Correction question that addresses subject-verb agreement.

Here's an example:

Critics have long argued that there is a number of serious flaws in the methodology that have been used by the Government to estimate nuclear risk to the environment.

A) there is a number of serious flaws in the methodology that have been used

B) there are a number of serious flaws in the methodology that have been used

C) there are a number of serious flaws in the methodology that has been used

D) a number of serious flaws in the methodology have been used

E) a number of serious flaws in the methodology that has been used

On the GMAT, you will not be told what aspect of grammar any given question tests; you will have to figure it out on your own. Ideally, you should be able to spot the mistakes in the original sentence before you move on to working with the answer choices. Although this might seem time-consuming, it actually will save time later. Armed with the knowledge of what exactly is wrong with the sentence, you will be able to eliminate quickly the wrong choices and pick the right one.

Start by reading the sentence once. If you do not immediately see what is wrong with it, break it into smaller parts and examine each part individually. Then check whether the underlined parts agree with each other and with the rest of the sentence. In our sample sentence, the underlined portion contains two clauses: there is a number of flaws and methodology that have been used...

Let's take a close look at the first clause: there is a number of serious flaws. Whenever you see a number of or the number of in a sentence, it is very likely that you're dealing with a subject-verb agreement issue. Does a number of flaws take a singular verb, is? It does not, because a number is just another way of saying some or several and therefore is not the subject. The subject here is flaws, and it calls for a plural verb: there ARE a number of flaws.

In the clause that have been used, the verb is plural. But should it be? In order to decide, we need to know what that refers to. The original sentence reads, "flaws in the methodology that have been used...," thus saying that the flaws have been used by the Government, a meaning that is unlikely to be correct. Rather, the Government has used the methodology. Therefore, the correct sentence should read, "flaws in the methodology that HAS been used..."

Now that we have identified two mistakes in the original sentence, we should start looking for a choice that corrects both of them. Choice A is out. B does a good job with the first mistake, but fails to get rid of the second. D changes the structure of the original sentence, distorting its meaning: "critics have argued that...flaws...have been used by the Government." E leaves us with a sentence fragment: "critics have argued that...flaws in the methodology that has been used" - there is no verb to go with a number of flaws. Therefore, C is the right choice.

To sum up, always try to do your best to spot what's wrong with the original sentence. If you've read the sentence a couple of times, however, broken it down into clauses, and remain clueless about the mistakes, move on to the answer choices. The differences in answer choices can help you see what requires correction.


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