Tricky Grammar Questions: Part #1

The Clues are in the Context!

Sometimes, we look at certain questions on Singular/Plural rules and think – wait a minute, why is my answer wrong? 🤔🤔🤔

Isn’t “a group” always singular?
Isn’t “family” considered one unit?
Isn’t “five minutes” counted as plural because they are more than one? 🤯

While basic singular/plural rules apply for most questions, some questions just tend to be a little special.

Point is, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Grammar questions can be tricky when we need to consider CONTEXT (i.e. circumstances and conditions that help us have better understanding of something) beyond just applying fixed rules.

In short, we depend on what is logical.
Here are some of such questions to look out for:


1. Much to the relief of Mr David, most of the deer (is/are/was/were) rescued from the burning ranch this morning.

We are tempted to put “was” because “deer” is singular, right?

💭 Is it logical though?
If “deer” is singular, it means 1 x 🦌.
“Most of the (one) deer” means... some body parts of a deer??? 😱 (Mr. David would not be relieved for sure. Oh deer.)

✅ Logical conclusion? There’s more than 1 deer being rescued. ANSWER: “were”

🍎 Fun fact: “Deer” is used as both the singular and plural forms of the animal. There’s no such word as “deers”. 🙃😬




2. One third of the orchestra (is / are / was / were) on stage right now.

The answer is “was”, right? Our Mathematical brains are churning. ➕➖✖➗ One third = less than a whole = singular! No?

❌ Nope.
💭 What’s an orchestra made up of? 🎺
Yes, people. Humans! In fact, many humans. 🧍 Are humans countable? Yes!

One third of a group of many people (like an orchestra) = ❓ More than one person, for sure.

One Third Of Orchestra 2

✅ There’s more than 1 person in one third of an orchestra. ANSWER: “are”


3. Jane’s family (write / writes / writing / wrote) to her to tell her about their lives every month.


Usually, we assume “family” to be 1 unit = singular. So, is the answer here “writes”?

❌ Well, not quite. We need to look at context.
The clues are in the word “their” and the action of writing a letter.

💭 Is there just one person writing about his or her life? No, each member is telling Jane about his or her life.
More than one member is writing.

Are all the family members holding one pen and collectively doing a singular action of writing the letter together? Again, not likely.

Family Writing 2

✅ More than one family member is writing. All of them are writing their own letters. Answer: “write”


Watch this space for more English exam tips and hacks on Grammar, Synthesis, Creative Writing and many more!