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"What is" followed by plural noun

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New post 15 Jun 2016, 03:56
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I've noticed this structure in one of the GMATPrep questions:

What is difficult to determine is the exact location of the house, the reason it was constructed, and the number of people it could accommodate.

The example is made up, but reflects the exact same kind of structure.

Since the subject is singular, the first verb obviously has to be singular. Now what is interesting is that the second verb which is singular is followed by a list of objects which is equivalent to a plural noun. Normally, a verb referring to a plural object should also be plural; this case is an exception.

Now I wonder if this exception is specific to the "What is" structure or there is a more general rule for this kind of exception.

Any thoughts are welcome.

P/S: if someone can find the GMATPrep question that uses this structure, feel free to share a link... Sorry I don't remember the other details of the question.
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New post 15 Jun 2016, 21:03
Hello HiLine, this is a good observation.

The subject of the sentence that you've stated in your post, is What is difficult to determine. This is itself a clause.

When the subject of a clause itself is a clause, the subject is considered singular.

While not exactly the same example, a similar official example:

That some fraternal twins resemble each other greatly while others look quite dissimilar highlights an interesting and often overlooked feature of fraternal-twin pairs, namely that they vary considerably on a spectrum of genetic relatedness.

Our book EducationAisle Sentence Correction Nirvana discusses this aspect of clauses, along with examples. If someone is interested, PM me your email-id, I can mail the corresponding section.
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New post 16 Jun 2016, 07:03
EducationAisle wrote:
Hello HiLine, this is a good observation.

The subject of the sentence that you've stated in your post, is What is difficult to determine. This is itself a clause.

When the subject of a clause itself is a clause, the subject is considered singular.

While not exactly the same example, a similar official example:

That some fraternal twins resemble each other greatly while others look quite dissimilar highlights an interesting and often overlooked feature of fraternal-twin pairs, namely that they vary considerably on a spectrum of genetic relatedness.

Our book EducationAisle Sentence Correction Nirvana discusses this aspect of clauses, along with examples. If someone is interested, PM me your email-id, I can mail the corresponding section.


What is interesting is that even if the verb "be" refers to a plural noun, it is still conjugated in a singular form if the subject is singular, and that your example actually doesn't really illustrate the point I was trying to make. ;)
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New post 18 Jun 2016, 23:05
Hi Hiline, the reason I cited this example, was to illustrate an official sentence using clause as a subject. Indeed, it doesn't really illustrate the point you were trying to make (and hence the reason I mentioned While not exactly the same example in my post).

As I stated:

When the subject of a clause itself is a clause, the subject is considered singular.

This is irrespective of whether the verb be refers to a singular/plural noun. I used to know a very specific official example illustrating this point, but somehow am not able to locate it.

Will update this thread once it comes back to me:).
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New post 18 Jun 2016, 23:24
EducationAisle wrote:
Hi Hiline, the reason I cited this example, was to illustrate an official sentence using clause as a subject. Indeed, it doesn't really illustrate the point you were trying to make (and hence the reason I mentioned While not exactly the same example in my post).

As I stated:

When the subject of a clause itself is a clause, the subject is considered singular.

This is irrespective of whether the verb be refers to a singular/plural noun. I used to know a very specific official example illustrating this point, but somehow am not able to locate it.

Will update this thread once it comes back to me:).


Got your point! :-D

I'm not sure I agree that the subject of the sentence is a clause though. Can we also read the sentence as "The thing which is difficult to determine is ...", in which case "the thing", which is not a clause, is the subject?
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New post 20 Jun 2016, 05:41
HiLine wrote:
I'm not sure I agree that the subject of the sentence is a clause though. Can we also read the sentence as "The thing which is difficult to determine is ...", in which case "the thing", which is not a clause, is the subject?

Hi HiLine, we can read/interpret the sentence in any which way we like, if it helps us understand the sentence better. However, our subjective interpretation does not change the inherent grammatical structure of the sentence. The subject of the sentence (that I mentioned in my previous post) is a clause.

You might want to Google to make yourself more comfortable with this construct. I quickly did that and landed on this page: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/function/subjclau.htm that provides few examples. Am sure there are many other such sites as well.
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