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I recently wrote a sentence similar to the following one in a scientific context:

They are more similar to real-word problems, which [make / makes] them ideal benchmark domains.

I initially used the singular form "makes", because I thought "which" relates to the whole main sentence (i.e. "the fact" (it) that they are more similar to [...]). However, my supervisor told me it should be the plural form (make), because it relates to "problems". With German being my mother language, I find this odd, as we use the singular form in this case.

Which of the two versions is correct?

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    I would definitely use which makes because, as you stated, it's the fact that [...] which makes them [...]. – MadWard Jun 29 '16 at 12:40
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    It can only be "makes". We understand that "their similarity to real-world problems makes them ideal benchmark domains". – BillJ Jun 29 '16 at 13:19
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Both are correct, but what you choose is directly related to what idea you're trying to convey. I would use the singular form, because it makes more sense to me that the verb relate to the entire idea, i.e. the sentence that "which" follows. You could look at it like this:

What causes them to be ideal benchmark domains? The real-world problems themselves or their similarity to real-world problems? If your answer is the problems themselves, use "make", if it's their similarity, use "makes".

  • Thanks! +1 for the "guideline" in the second part of your answer. It's a really simple way of resolving such issues. – Griddo Jun 29 '16 at 13:02
  • It can only be "makes". We understand that "their similarity to real-world problems makes them ideal benchmark domains". – BillJ Jun 29 '16 at 13:47
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    @Griddo don't be so fast on accepting answers. (See Not so fast!) That said, I don't think both options are possible Matheus. The plural just sounds wrong to my ears, but it could be just me. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jun 29 '16 at 14:10
  • I meant it grammatically speaking. In context, it's clear why the plural sounds weird, but think of another sentence, such as "It's nice and made of chocolate bars, which makes/make it a really good treat". To say it's wrong is to speak of a context I'm not privy to - namely whatever OP was writing. – Matheus Fernandes Jun 29 '16 at 17:48
  • @TIPS You're right, I was too fast on accepting. However, I'm keeping this answer accepted, because I think it explains better why the singular should be used in this case, and what this decision should be based on in general. In addition, I agree Matheus Fernandes. – Griddo Jun 30 '16 at 18:47
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"Makes" is the only option that makes sense.

If you use "make", you are saying that "real world problems" is the subject of the relative clause, so "real world problems make them ideal benchmark domains" which is incoherent.

  • Pretty nice answer. Actually, the answer, but due to OP's premature accept, the wrong one will stick to the top. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jun 29 '16 at 15:32
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    I don't find it impossible to imagine that certain "real world problems" might create a situation whereby something becomes "an ideal benchmark domain". – FumbleFingers Jun 29 '16 at 17:27

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