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A TOEIC test sentence. A Chinese woman recently asked a question about a sentence from a TOEIC test.
She never got a proper answer, so now I’m posting it as a discussion to hear what people think. Neither she or I know the correct answer. Simply writing what you think is the correct answer is not enough - you have to explain why you think so. Thanks for your participation!

Here is the test sentence:

I always thought the very best of the men and women_____our friends.
D)who were

In my opinion D is the correct answer. Below I explain why I choose D:

A is clearly wrong (there are no men and women inside our friends).

B: It only makes sense to use “among” if they also have friends who are not men and women.
If you only had male friends, you would’t say for instance “I often watch baseball with the men among my friends”. You would instead say “I often watch baseball with my friends”.
So in my opinion B is only correct if they also consider for instance children their friends.

C: I can’t grammatically explain why I consider C wrong, it just sounds strange to me.

D: It’s an awkward and unnatural sentence, but I can’t find anything wrong with it.
It’s correct to use “who” and not “whom” since “who” is the subject of the clause “who were our friends”.

2016年9月9日 19:00
Comments · 18
I concur with Alan’s excellent analysis. I’ll add that in my opinion, B2 tests such TOEIC and FCE are a waste of time. What on Earth is a grammar question that native speakers can barely explain doing on a B2 test? Besides eliminating perfectly good candidates, there are many ways that weaker candidates could train to beat such a B2 test without actually knowing that much English. In this particular case, simply knowing a different European language allowed a Spaniard and a Brazilian teenager (no offense -- Pedro is actually a very talented young polyglot) to figure the answer out, while many adult native speakers would be scratching their heads. IMO, anything less than TOEFL and IELTS are of minimal value, and can easily cause students to focus on the wrong skills and learning techniques.


First of all, this is exactly the kind of question that makes me hate grammar tests: a totally decontextualised sentence, constructed not to create meaning but purely to trick the reader (in real life we write to be understood, not to show off our grammar theory!)

Honestly, the sentence looks strange to me with any option, since it's such an unnatural sentence. But if forced to choose, I'd pick D.


"within" would imply "our friends" is an organisation, eg. within the army.


As you said, it implies I have friends who are neither men nor women!


This is the only wrong option that sounds really jarring to a native speaker. If you said A or B in casual speech nobody would notice, however this sounds really terrible. However, it's tricky to explain why.

We often use participial clauses to describe nouns, but I think the problem is that "be" is a stative verb. I'm honestly not 100% sure what the rule is about using stative verbs in participial clauses when replacing relative clauses. Sometimes it looks fine (I found a wallet containing $100), and other times it looks terrible (*I'm a guy having many friends)

How about this for a "rule"? Avoid using participial clauses to describe nouns when the verb is stative, because you will sometimes be wrong.


So in conclusion...


As you said, it's awful style (why would you want to specify that your friends are men and women?!), but it's the only option left after a process of elimination:

A and B are wrong, according to the rules

C might be wrong, according to the rules (it looks instinctively horrible to a native speaker, but I'm assuming the learner can't spot that)

D is not wrong, according to the rules, therefore it's the best answer
I'm a non native English speaker from a non English speaking country and I would also choose D. It sounds pretty natural in Portuguese. Why do you think it sounds awkward? 

I'm not English speaker.

But if that's of help, the D sounds perfect for me. A translation, word by word, to Spanish will produce a barely perfect sentence in Spanish too. Maybe if you use a verb, you need a past tense because the first part of the sentence is already in past form. But it is just a blind shot.

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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), Danish, English, German, Swedish
Learning Language
English, Swedish