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I am aware of the solution using "can" or "will" to circumvent the issue, but I really want to know the answer. In the sentence below, "efficacy" is what "that" describes, not "gamification mechanics". However, the word "that" immediately follows "gamification mechanics", which got me confused.

Cross-platform comparison of multiple pro-green programs will be a valuable addition to the literature because it helps researchers measure the efficacy of gamification mechanics that is/are particularly robust in some situations but not others.

Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thank you in advance.

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  • I would say it is the plural of the noun, mechanics, that takes "are" which you propose. There are many words preceding but they only modify the noun.
    – Elliot
    Dec 19 '20 at 5:27
  • Thanks, Elliot. It helps.
    – JJP
    Dec 19 '20 at 7:22
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Were mechanics plural, you could use are to refer unequivocally to mechanics, or is to refer to efficacy.

However,

Mechanics = mechanics noun, plural in form but singular or plural in construction

Merriam Webster

This means that is/are is preceded by efficacy (singular) and by mechanics (singular or plural). The meaning therefore remains ambiguous and unclear.

One way (obviously not the only one) of avoiding the problem may be to make an emphatic repetition:

“... measure the efficacy of gamification mechanics that is particularly robust in some situations, an efficacy that is not so robust in others.”

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  • Anton: Thank you for the great input. Does it sound natural to you if I make the following modification? "...it helps researchers measure gamification mechanics' efficacy that is particularly robust in some situations but not others."
    – JJP
    Dec 19 '20 at 21:25
  • It may be that you have to decide if is the efficacy that is robust or the mechanics, and you will then be set to write it right. Dec 20 '20 at 4:27
  • Almost natural! I think “game mechanics’ accuracy, which is ...” is better because the construction qualifies the accuracy rather than defining it by using “that”. Others may disagree, so I leave this as comment rather than modify the answer.
    – Anton
    Dec 20 '20 at 7:46

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