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    Sentence Correction
  I: Introduction
  II: Sentence Correction Tips
  III: Glossary
  IV: Three-Step Method
V: Seven Error Types  
1. Subject-Verb Agreement
a. Introduction
b. Subject/Verb Separation
c. Collective Nouns
d. Plural / Singular
e. Neither / Either
f. Or / Nor
g. Subject / Verb / Object
h. Quantity Words
i. Sample Questions
2. Modifiers
3. Parallelism
4. Pronoun Agreement
5. Verb Time Sequences
6. Comparisons
7. Idioms
  VI: Sample Questions



C. Subject-Verb Agreement: Collective Nouns


Subject-Verb Agreement

A. Introduction
B. Subject / Verb Separation
C. Collective Nouns
D. Plural / Singular
E. Neither / Either
F. Or / Nor
G. Subject / Verb / Object
H. Quantity Words
I. Sample Questions

Collective nouns, such as family, majority, audience, and committee are singular when they act in a collective fashion or represent one group. They are plural when the members of the collective body act as individuals. Collective nouns will usually be singular in Sentence Correction sentences. The difficulty of these questions lies in identifying a noun as a collective noun.

A majority of the shareholders wants the merger.

These nouns usually look plural, but are in fact singular. Confused? If you're having trouble determining singularity or plurality, it might be helpful to visualize what's actually going on in the sentence. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the sentence talking about something that acts as a singular entity?
Or, is it talking about the individual elements within that entity?

In the sentence above we are presented with the noun "majority". The "majority of shareholders" likely contains several shareholders; however, they are only spoken of as a group, not as individuals. There is no indication that the sentence is referring to the individuals within the majority – even though it comprises several people, the "majority" acts as one – as a singular entity - and therefore requires a singular verb, "wants."

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The flock of birds is flying south.

This sentence presents another ambiguous noun – "flock" – followed by a plural noun, "birds". Again, the confusing noun is referred to as a singular group: even though a flock comprises many birds, we're not talking about each bird's direction of flight, but the direction of the flock as a whole. And because the flock as a whole is singular, it therefore requires a singular verb to accompany it: the singular verb "is," not the plural verb "are."

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Here is an example of a collective noun that requires a plural verb. Even though you will not see this very often on the GMAT, it's helpful to illustrate the importance of reading the entire sentence and visualizing what it describes every time you come across a confusing noun.

The sentence above describes the fighting that occurs between the individual members of the team. Because "team" refers to several individual members, it is a plural noun, and therefore requires a plural verb - "are" - as a result.

The key to these questions is simplicity:

  1. recognize the collective noun
  2. visualize what's going on in the sentence to make sure it is a collective noun
  3. proceed.

These questions are included in the GMAT not because they are especially difficult, but because test writers expect most students to be unfamiliar with the rules governing collective nouns. But if you know to look out for those tricky collective nouns, then you have no reason to worry, because you're already ahead of the game.


List of Common Collective Nouns

army clergy government
audience council jury
band (musical band) crowd majority
board (political) department minority
cabinet (political) enemy public
choir group school
class herd senate
committee faculty society
company family  
corporation team  

B. Subject/Verb Separation

D. Plural Singular