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[edit section] SAT Writing Section Guide: Improving Sentences

  1. Improving Sentences Questions
  2. Modifiers
  3. Terse Language

[edit section] Modifiers

Modifiers are key components of any language, including English. We use modifiers in everyday speech without realizing it, and modifiers are often employed in literature to better convey a message. However, incorrect modifier usage can be confusing and even misleading, so it helps to know how to correctly use modifiers. IS questions often test you on your ability to understand and correct modifier errors, so we will spend our time today covering modifiers, modifier errors, and ways to correct those errors.

[edit section] What is a modifier?

Simply put, a modifier is any word that that can be used to describe another word. So, adverbs and adjectives are basic types of modifiers. Many times, a modifier may not seem like a modifier. For example:

Running towards the train, I panted for breath.

Running towards the train is a phrase that modifies the subject "I."

Here are some other examples of sentences with modifiers:

  • Hopefully, we will have better luck this year.
  • Specifically, what is it that you want?
  • The man, seeing that I would not give him any change, walked away angrily.

[edit section] What are modifier errors?

Modifier errors occur when a modifier is used in an ambiguous or meaningless way. For example, the following sentence can convey two meanings:

Hopefully, he will win this year.

The obvious meaning is that: "I hope he will win this year." But it could also mean "He will win hopefully this year." See the problem? Thankfully, the College Board doesn't test on these kinds of modifier errors. But, more obvious errors are often tested:

Speeding down the highway, I watched the car from my office.

Obviously, "speeding down the highway" does not modify "I" because the subject is in his office. The proximity of the modifier to "I" seems to imply that the modifier acts on the subject when in fact, it should act on the subject "car." The correct sentence would be:

I watched the car speeding down the highway from my office.

Of course, there are other ways to correct this sentence, but this is one example of a way to address the modifier error. Consider this sentence:

Being at a very low price, I bought the new magazine.

Obviously, "I" cannot be modified by "being at a very low price" - that's slavery! The intended meaning here is:

I bought the magazine at a very low price.

Watch out for the placement of modifiers as well - they can be rather tricky. How about this sentence?

I paid for the new car with a credit card.

It sounds okay, and in normal speech it would be, but a clearer version of the statement would be:

With a credit card, I paid for the new car.

In the first sentence, it was unclear if you paid for the car USING A credit card or if you paid for a car that CAME WITH a credit card.

Whenever you see a modifier underlined in part of an IS question, ask yourself these questions:

1. What does the modifier modify?

2. Is the modified word in the correct place?

3. Does the sentence make logical and grammatical sense with the modifier in place?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you should consider correcting a modifier error.

Our next and final lesson will be on terse language in the IS section.

[edit section] SAT Writing Section Guide: Improving Sentences

  1. Improving Sentences Questions
  2. Modifiers
  3. Terse Language

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