GMAT Grammar: Changing the Subject

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - GMAT Grammar: Changing the Subject by Emily Madan

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Subject-verb agreement is fundamental to correct sentence construction. It’s commonly tested on the GMAT, but is overlooked far too often. Today, we’re going to focus on the subject of the sentence in GMAT grammar.

The subject is the actor of the sentence. It performs the action described by the verb. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use “subject” to mean the main subject of the sentence, used in an independent clause, though, of course, a sentence can contain multiple actors/subjects. For example:

I love to dance outside when it rains, but Annabelle prefers to stay indoors.

Both “I” and “Annabelle” are subjects, but the subject is “I.” I am the actor, and the action I am performing is loving. I love.

Ok, time to come back to practical GMAT grammar applications. I, personally, am an avid believer in the value of the first glance. Don’t know what that is? Invest in our Sentence Correction Strategy Guide to find out. Otherwise, read on to deepen your use of the first glance.

Consider these three hypothetical answer choices:

A) a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided by the committee
B) the committee was unable to come to a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research
C) the committee’s conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided

While there are a variety of differences between these answers, one should jump out as most important. There is some variation in each answer choice’s subject. The subject matters. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Why? How will changing the subject affect the overall sentence? Well, we have three likely reasons.

1. There is a disagreement between the subject and the verb in some answer choices.

This is generally the easiest one to search for. Go find the corresponding verb for each answer choice to spot disagreement. The subjects and verbs are in bold:

A) a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided by the committee
B) the committee was unable to come to a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research
C) the committee’s conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided

While you may need practice before you quickly spot these sentence cores, once you do you should be able to recognize that for this example, there’s no disagreement. There might be some answers you prefer, but that’s a stylistic preference, not a definitive reason to eliminate. Ok, move on to the next possibility.

2. There is a modifier that describes a particular subject.

This is incredibly common with opening modifiers. These must describe the subject of the sentence, so we should verify this. You’ll need the full sentence to determine whether this is the issue, but we can watch for a few typical signs. If the underlined portion begins or ends immediately before the first comma in the sentence, this is likely testing modifiers. That first clause could be an opening modifier, so it’s just a question of whether the modifier is set and you need to adjust the subject accordingly or vice-versa.

Here’s our example with the full sentence included:

Without a deeper knowledge of the quantum mechanics driving the scientists’ hypothesis, a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided by the committee and therefore voted to delay judgement.

A) a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided by the committee
B) the committee was unable to come to a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research
C) the committee’s conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided

This is definitely an example of an opening modifier. Some entity is missing a deeper knowledge, as described by the first clause, and it’s up to us as test takers to decide which subject fits. For that reason alone, the subject cannot be “a conclusion.” The conclusion may be reached by uninformed people, but it is not, itself, missing knowledge.

That logic eliminates both A and C! Did you catch the possessive form of committee in C? The committee is describing whose conclusion it is, but is not actually the subject. Answer B is the only one with the correct subject, “the committee.”

But don’t stop reading yet! If that opening modifier were not present, you could still use the subject to pinpoint the right answer. Let’s remove the modifier from the equation as we delve into the third reason the subject might be changed.

3. Changing the subject changes the meaning of the sentence.

A conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided by the committee and therefore voted to delay judgement.

A) A conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided by the committee
B) The committee was unable to come to a conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research
C) The committee’s conclusion about the value of continuing to fund the research could not be decided

This is the hardest to spot, so excellent job if you saw the meaning shift. Generally the meaning change becomes more obvious the more you strip the sentence down to its core. The core of the sentence as written is:

A conclusion could not be decided and voted to delay judgement.

Now we have a transparently nonsensical meaning. The conclusion voted to delay judgement? No. Only the committee could do that, so committee must be the subject.

In sum, if the subject changes, that matters! Try to figure out why it matters and what it’s testing to confidently eliminate answer choices. For more examples and more detail, check out our Sentence Correction Strategy Guide. 📝


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Emily Madan Manhattan Prep GMAT InstructorEmily Madan is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Philadelphia. Having scored in the 99th percentile of the GMAT (770) and LSAT (177), Emily is committed to helping others achieve their full potential. In the classroom, she loves bringing concepts to life and her greatest thrill is that moment when a complex topic suddenly becomes clear to her students. Check out Emily’s upcoming GMAT courses here. Your first class is always free!

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