Misplaced Modifiers

20 Jul

Misplaced modifiers are a trick the SAT throws at you at least 3 or 4 times on a test, generally in the improving sentences portion of the Writing Test. Basically, all a misplaced modifier is is a sentence which attributes action to the incorrect person or thing. 

Here’s a fairly morbid example:

Walking down the street, the bus hit the dog. 

Upon first glance, this sentence might seem to make sense – it’s talking about a bus hitting a dog on the street. However, because of the misplaced modifier, this sentence is technically saying that the bus was walking down the street, rather than the dog. Instead, the sentence should read:

Walking down the street, the dog was hit by the bus.

Occasionally, the SAT will do this with adverbs, as well. These tend to be a little trickier, but the same logic applies. Look here:

I almost watched the entire movie.

Again, this sentence might seem to make sense (and sounds like something we’d say all the time), but watch for the misplaced modifier! The word “almost” is supposed to be modifying the word “entire”, but instead, it’s currently modifying the word “watched.” A corrected version of this sentence would say:

I watched almost the entire movie.

Got it? Try this SAT test question to see for sure (taken straight from the College Board’s website):

Underestimating its value, breakfast is a meal many people skip.

  • (A) Underestimating its value, breakfast is a meal many people skip.
  • (B) Breakfast is skipped by many people because of their underestimating its value.
  • (C) Many people, underestimating the value of breakfast, and skipping it.
  • (D) Many people skip breakfast because they underestimate its value.
  • (E) A meal skipped by many people underestimating its value is breakfast.

Did you catch it? The original sentence is incorrect because it states that breakfast underestimates its own value. While I think that breakfast is capable of many things, it is certainly not capable of thinking for itself. Answer (D) is the only choice which eliminates this problem while not committing any other errors. (B) contains verb problems and that unnecessary and clunky “their” thrown in. (C) doesn’t need to have a verb ending in -ing, and (E) is worded in a less direct and passive way.

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