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Captain Matthew Webb achieved fame in 1875 by being the first man to swim unaided across the English channel; eight years later, as he attempted to garner more acclaim, swimming across Niagara Falls was to cost him his life.
This answer choice is grammatically incorrect. The plural verb were does not agree with the singular subject swimming.[[snippet]]
This answer choice is grammatically incorrect because of the incorrect use of the Past Perfect tense: the verb had cost does not describe an action that came before another action in the past. Rather, this sentence describes a past action that took place at a particular point in time (eight years after 1875). Therefore the Past Simple should be used for this action.
In addition, this answer choice turns the pronoun he into the subject of the verb had cost. This change is unnecessary, and is non-idiomatic. The correct way to phrase this idiom is: <subject> cost <someone> his/her/their life. We cannot say that he cost himself his own life but something/someone else cost him his life.
This answer choice is grammatically incorrect. In this sentence, a past action that took place at a particular point in time (eight years after 1875) and that is finished is described. Therefore the Past Simple should be used for this action. However, this sentence uses the Past Progressive.
This answer choice is grammatically incorrect. By changing the subject swimming into a time expression during a swim, the sentence remains without a subject, and thus becomes a fragment.
To identify the fragment we can ask: What came at a cost to his life? The sentence does not provide the answer. Therefore, we do not have a subject for the verb came. Every clause in a sentence needs to have a subject for its verb(s).
This answer choice matches the singular verb was with the singular subject swimming.[[snippet]]