GMAT Sentence Correction Modifiers

Modifiers are word or phrase that modifies the subject. It can be adjectives, adverbs, adjective or adverb clauses, infinitives, participle or prepositional phrases.

The poor, little boy who just wanted a meal jumped to pick a plate as a spider appeared out of the stack of plate.

In the above sentence,

Adjective: poor

Adjective clause: who just wanted a meal

Adverb clause: as a spider appeared out of the stack of plates

A modifier is an absolute necessity in the language and aids in adding information to a sentence. They can change/modify the semantics of a statement when used.

Here are a few examples of modifiers:

Adjective: small fish, another woman, big city.

Adverb: accidentally brushed against a poisonous plant

Phrase/Clause: I caught a fish bigger than 2 feet. When alone, I like to read.

Now, what are the usual errors one makes with modifiers?

Misplaced modifier

The most common mistake with modifiers is misplacing the modifier. They are easy to spot. Remember that a modifier has to be placed close to what it modifies. Placing the modifier elsewhere causes problems.

  • I had a cake with Divya on a plate.
  • I had a cake on a plate with Divya.

These two sentences are grammatically right but they mean very different things. The first one does not sound logical at all.

I had a cake. The cake was on a plate. And I had the cake with Divya. This is what I mean to say. The first sentence says something that means differently. ‘With Divya’, ‘on a plate’ are modifiers. The first one means that Divya was on a plate.

The pair of dogs belonged to the old ladies, just drinking tea all day in the deck and tanning themselves.

Here again, there is ambiguity. You don’t know whether it’s the dogs or the old ladies who are drinking tea and tanning themselves.

Unlike most other political leaders, he resists the temptation to hoard money, which makes him a remarkable global figure.

What does which refer to here? There is no antecedent. And that is a problem because a pronoun must have an antecedent whatsoever. This is a modifier that does not make sense although we use this construct very often when we speak.

My friend Justin runs this successful business who has great business acumen.

This again is a case of misplaced modifier. It should ideally read, ‘My friend Justin who has great business acumen runs this successful business’.

Dangling modifiers

Dangling modifier is a sentence construct that assumes that you are aware of the subject, and therefore, miss mentioning the subject altogether. Misspelled modifier can become a subset of dangling modifier.

Replaced object example: climbing up hills surrounding Avalanche Lake, flowers greeted with its serene beauty.

The author is assuming that the reader is aware about the subject (us), but here the sentence is awkward and gives the impression that flowers are the subject.

Squinting modifier

These are the toughest to spot. Here the modifier can modify more than one thing, and the reader is confused as to which one to choose.

Most common errors are the result of the words “only”, “except”, “almost” and other adverbs.

Example: I am only watching positive news these days

The above sentence confuses the reader as to whether the author is watching positive news and nothing else, or while watching the news, the author watches only positive news.

Correct example: I am watching only positive news these days


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