The following is a question in a Japanese University's entrance exam.

There is an error in the following sentence. Correct the sentence by locating the wrong word from (1)-(4) and replacing it with the word in the bracket following it.

Nonetheless, university students (1)would(will) have to choose study over work, especially (2)if(when) they (3)are undertaking(undertake) a degree in (4)theoretical subjects(a theoretical subject).

To me, both (1) and (3) seems to be the answer. Could you help me?

  • 1
    (1) - (3) seem okay, though I think (1) could be either "Would" or "will" depending on the context. So I suspect that (4) is the error and it should be the singular "a theoretical subject" so that it matches the singular "a degree".
    – BillJ
    Dec 18, 2016 at 11:43
  • 1
    At first sight, there's nothing wrong with your title. But if I look a bit more closely, the condition has the present tense ("are undertaking"), and so it is a realis conditional, and so the consequent should have a non-past verb ("will" rather than "would". If (1) were "would", then (3) should be "undertook" or "were undertaking".
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 18, 2016 at 11:43
  • I see this as the tentative (rather than past tense) "would".
    – BillJ
    Dec 18, 2016 at 11:58
  • @BillJ, my first answer was (4) too. But, for example, "a city in Western countries" in "Berlins socio-spacial organization differs considerably from the typical structures of a city in Western countries" seems OK.
    – Aki
    Dec 18, 2016 at 12:07
  • @BillJ, doesn't the phrase mean "any city in any Western country"? In the same way, doesn't "a degree in theoretical subjects" mean "any degree in any theoretical subject"?
    – Aki
    Dec 18, 2016 at 12:24

1 Answer 1


If we don't substitute anything, we get the sentence from your title:

Nonetheless, university students would have to choose study over work, especially if they are undertaking a degree in theoretical subjects.

I think that substituting "will" for "would" is the correct answer in this case:

Nonetheless, university students will have to choose study over work, especially if they are undertaking a degree in theoretical subjects.

If we ignore the second half of the sentence, it is saying "Students will have to choose to study instead of working". I would use "would" if there were a hypothetical situation. I will use "will", especially if the situation is not hypothetical. The last sentence isn't idiomatic - I just constructed it to help make my point. The "especially if" changes the final clause from a hypothetical situation to a condition that makes it even more likely that I will have to do it.

You would have to study more if you were undertaking a degree in a theoretical subject.

You will have to study more for your doctorate, especially if you are undertaking a degree in a theoretical subject.

I wish I could explain a little better why "especially" makes a difference here, but it is something I know intuitively. I will think about it some more and maybe someone else will offer a suggestion on how to make it more clear.

I don't really like "a degree in theoretical subjects". I would say "a degree that involves theoretical subjects", but I don't know that it is obviously incorrect. We say "a degree in economics" or "a degree in psychology", so when I read "a degree in theoretical subjects" it sounds like the entire course of study is about the nature of "theoretical subjects" and not composed of subjects that are theoretical in nature.

This is more about a strategy for answering test questions than English, but I think it might be helpful... You might be able to make a correct sentence by changing more than one part of the sentence in the question, but for these sorts of questions you should focus on the one thing you can change. If you change one thing and the sentence is obviously incorrect, you can remove that option from your choices. For this question, you only need to look at 4 sentences and then try to decide which one is the correct one.

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