Why should “are” be used here instead of “is”?

Hassan Ashas 08/14/2017. 6 answers, 4.702 views
grammar verbs subject-verb-agreement

The sentence given in our book is as follows,

More important than winning is developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills

We are supposed to find where the mistake is in the sentence... 4 options are given ( which I have made bold ) and one of them is correct ( meaning the mistake is there ).. As per the key given in our book, the correct answer is B option i.e. "is" and the key says that "are" should be used here... I am confused and can't understand why should "are" be used here? Anyone who can help me here, please?

7 yshavit 07/31/2017
Part of the confusion may be that this is a bit of a garden path sentence. At least for me, as I read it the first time, my brain was trying to group things as "the ability to (work with other and develop[...] leadership skills)." That is, I thought both "to work" and "develop" (which I'd misread, from "developing") went with "ability," making the sentence singular. It's actually "(the ability to work with others) and (developing leadership skills)," which are two nouns, hence plural.
3 Kyle Strand 07/31/2017
This sentence could be vastly improved by simplifying the predicate: "More important than winning is developing teamwork and leadership skills." (Note that in this version, since "developing...skills" is the predicate nominative, "is" would be correct.)

6 Answers

Lambie 08/09/2017.

Option B is the correct answer, as your answer key says. The error is in the use of the singular form of the copula "is" with a plural subject.

The correct form of the copula is "are" because the sentence in the non-inverted form is:

Developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills are more important than winning.

This is a sentence with a compound subject. That means two subjects, so the plural is used.

Same pattern as:

Trees and bushes are important in gardens.

For clarification, here is the same sentence with the corrected word and with braces added to cartouche each subject:

More important than winning are { developing the ability to work with others } and { developing leadership skills }

17 StoneyB 07/30/2017
+1 It might cement the point for OP and other learners if you followed the final example with its 'inverted' form: "Important in gardens are trees and bushes."
4 P. E. Dant 07/30/2017
+1 Very concise and clear. +1 for StoneyB's suggestion, too.
10 ruakh 07/31/2017
+1, though I must say, the version with "is" sounds pretty OK to me, too. "Xing and Ying" can often be taken as a single (but multifarious) action; we say "Hemming and hawing gets on my nerves", or "Hunting and gathering is very effective in small-scale societies", or . . . well, you get the idea.
3 amalloy 07/31/2017
Your first sentence should start "It is are because...", right? You seem to be arguing for "are", not "is".
6 TimF 07/31/2017
Good answer but you could replace It is "is" because[...] by The mistake is "is" because[...]. I find it a bit confusing to read It is "is" when the correct writing of this sentence is with are

Andrew 07/31/2017.

Invert the sentence and it should be apparent:

Developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills are more important than winning.

Keep this trick in mind for the future. It may be useful again.

That being said, this kind of ambiguity is a good indication that the sentence might be poorly written. Most native speakers would naturally say is by default, because the "A is more X than B" structure is frequently used to compare two equal things.

More important than winning the race is striving to always do your best.

More enjoyable than eating the food is learning to prepare it for yourself.

More important than winning is learning to work together, and also developing leadership skills.

Keep in mind that there may be ways to write these sentences with better style. Test questions like these are purposely designed to be difficult, while good writing is supposed to be easy to read.

eyeballfrog 08/01/2017
Using a poorly-structured or non-idiomatic sentence as part of a test seems like a bad way to make it more difficult.
Andrew 08/02/2017
@eyeballfrog That was the subtext of my comment, yes. :)

stovroz 07/31/2017.

The is version sounds better than it should because of the complexity of the following subjects. You are somewhat led to believe that the first developing wraps up the remainder of the sentence into a single subject.

The answer becomes more obvious if you simplify the two subjects, so say:

developing the ability to work with others => cooperating

developing leadership skills => leading

More important than winning is cooperating and leading.


More important than winning are cooperating and leading.

Hassan Ashas 08/01/2017
I still think that the correct answer would be "More important than winning is cooperating and leading", haha... but by inverting the sentence, yeah - the second sentence makes lot more sense. Thanks :)

Nick Gammon 08/01/2017.

As a native English speaker I would say that the proposed sentence is 100% correct:

More important than winning is developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills

If you change "is" to "are" you sound pompous.

What you initially hear is:

More important than winning is developing the ability to work with others ...

Therefore "is" is correct.

It would be OK if you introduced early into the sentence that you were using a plural form, such as:

Useful skills for winning are developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills.

The use of the plural "skills" makes you expect the word "are" afterwards.

charmer 07/31/2017.

If there is a perceived error in the sentence (that 'is' should be replaced by 'are') then there is also a second error which has been missed. The second error is the failure to indicate there are two things more important than winning. (As already mentioned the current sentence using 'is' would be naturally used by native English (UK) speakers.

original sentence

More important than winning is developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills

'Corrected sentence'

More important than winning are developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills

the plural in the sentence refers to the two subjects which are more important than winning; 'the ability to work with others' and 'developing leadership skills'.

It's extremely awkward to indicate the plural by the use of 'are' alone. And I can't see another way without completely rewriting the sentence. e.g.

The two things more important than winning are developing the ability to work with others and developing leadership skills.

The above is still awkward due to using the word 'developing' twice.

2 David K 07/31/2017
"The ability to work with others" is a noun phrase. So is "leadership skills." Logically, why can't we develop both of them by "developing the ability to work with others and leadership skills"? This is a new noun phrase with singular number, so the grammatical error in the original sentence could be corrected by deleting the second "developing." This would leave the sentence stylistically incorrect (it causes confusion over exactly which phrases are combined by "and"), and I would not use that construction, but I'm not convinced that it is worse than the answer key's solution.
charmer 07/31/2017
I had thought about that, and if there was a way of omitting the second 'developing'. The order of the items might be important, try 'developing leadership skills and the ability to work with others'. I think one of the main points is that the original sentence not only contains errors, but that it is itself an extremely awkward way of making that statement.
P. E. Dant 07/31/2017
"...awkward due to using..." is every bit as awkward as the cited instance!
charmer 08/09/2017
@P.E.Dant I'd disagree with you on that one - even re-reading it some time later, it still scans fine to me.

mrpru 07/31/2017.

What if the original intent was that the combination of "ability to work with others and developing leadership skills" together were more important, but individually they were not? Then it should be IS - correct?

2 Jasper 07/31/2017
Thank you for your contribution. I think it is insightful. Did you mean to post an answer, or a comment? With less than 50 reputation points, you can only post comments below your own posts. When you have at least 50 reputation points, you will be able to post comments below other people's posts.
Jasper 07/31/2017
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