A modifier is a word or phrase that provides a description. The modifying word or phrase must be next to the word it is describing. If a sentence begins with a modifier or the modifier is misplaced, it is a faulty modifier. You will have to identify and improve faulty modifiers in the Writing section of the SAT® test.
Questions like this appear in both parts of the Writing test, so you will be asked to improve sentences and identify errors with this type of faulty modifier.
Remember, the modifier has to be next to the thing it is describing. For misplaced modifiers, the descriptive phrase is often separated from the thing it describes.
Here is an example:
The girls wrote about their crushes in the notebook a lot.
The thing that the girls wrote is separated from its modifier (“a lot”) by “in the notebook.”
You can correct this sentence by rearranging the placement of the modifier, so that it is next to the noun it is describing, like this:
The girls wrote a lot about their crushes in the notebook.
The error may be hard to spot in this example because the sentence makes sense. But remember that a descriptive phrase has to be next to the noun it is describing, so this sentence’s order needs to be adjusted.
Here is the example:
Regardless of her skills, the coach would not allow Sarah to play during the game.
The modifier here is at the beginning of the sentence. We call this a dangling modifier.
The modifier “Regardless of her skills” is next to “the coach,” but it describes Sarah.
A corrected sentence might look like this:
- If a descriptive phrase is at the beginning of the sentence, be sure that it is separated from the thing it is describing by a comma.
The coach would not allow Sarah to play during the game, regardless of her skills.
- If the item after the comma is not what the modifier is describing, you need to rearrange the sentence structure.
- If the word after the comma is not what is being described by the modifier, you should replace it with the correct noun.
You can also adjust the modifier so that it describes the noun after the comma.
Here are some examples:
Walking into class late, the teacher had already started the lesson.
Corrected by replacing “the teacher” with the noun that the modifier (“walking into class late”) is meant to describe:
Walking into class late, I realized that the teacher had already started the lesson.
Corrected by adjusting the modifier so that it describes the correct noun:
When I walked into class late, the teacher had already started the lesson.
You can track these dangling modifiers by keeping an eye out for sentences that begin with a verb that ends in “ing,” “en,” or “ed,” or a prepositional phrase and then a comma.
Gerunds and Misplaced Modifiers
You should also know that gerunds and the noun that is doing the action must be next to each other.
Here is an example of a gerund error:
The tourist saw so many beautiful fish snorkeling.
The noun that is doing the “snorkeling” is the “tourist,” but the gerund, “snorkeling,” is next to “fish.” To improve the sentence, we need to move the gerund so that the noun doing the action is next to the modifier.
When they went snorkeling, the tourist saw so many beautiful fish.
Now, the gerund is next to their noun (“tourist”) doing the action.
You should practice pinpointing what the modifier is meant to describe and watch for placement errors that shift which noun is described.
The rules and errors we have outlined will help you weed out the wrong answer choices. Since there are multiple ways to fix a faulty modifier, you will want to rely on an understanding of these rules: the modifier must be next to the thing it is describing; a gerund (or “ing” verb) must be next to the thing doing the action; a sentence that starts with a modifier must have a comma between that modifier and the item it is describing.
You can practice identifying these mistakes using practice tests. UWorld’s SAT Prep Course is an excellent source for thousands of practice problems with detailed explanations to help you understand mistakes and errors. We also offer performance tracking tools to boost your scores and streamline your study plan!
Try it out to improve your performance in the Writing section of the SAT test.