SAT Writing : Correcting Ambiguous Modifier Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Writing

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Correcting Modifier Placement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English.

Happy that the long winter was finally over, John's coats were placed in the closet in the basement.

Possible Answers:

Happy that the long winter was finally over, John's coats were placed in the closet in the basement.

Happy that the long winter was finally over John placed his coats in the closet in the basement.

Happy that the long winter was finally over, John's coats placed in the closet in the basement.

Happy that the long winter was finally over; John placed his coats in the closet in the basement.

Happy that the long winter was finally over, John placed his coats in the closet in the basement.

Correct answer:

Happy that the long winter was finally over, John placed his coats in the closet in the basement.

Explanation:

The original sentence is an example of a dangling modifier. The preceding clause, "Happy that the long winter was finally over," refers to John, so John must be the subject of the second clause. John's coats are incapable of being happy that winter is over, so "John's coats" cannot be modified by that first clause.

Example Question #200 : Correcting Phrase, Clause, And Sentence Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

An account of the professor's research and teachings, which are described at length in the autobiography of his former student.

Possible Answers:

The professor's student, in his autobiography, lengthy describes an account of the Professor's teachings and research.

An account of the professor's research and teachings, which are described at length in the autobiography of his former student.

The professor's student, whose autobiography describes at length an account of the professor's research and teachings.

An account of the professor's research and teachings being lengthy described in the autobiography of his former student.

An account of the professor's research and teachings is described in great detail in the autobiography of his former student.

Correct answer:

An account of the professor's research and teachings is described in great detail in the autobiography of his former student.

Explanation:

"An account of the professor's research and teachings, which are described at length in the autobiography of his former student." - As it is presented in the question stem, the sentence is incomplete. It contains only a subject and is missing a predicate; "which are described at length in the autobiography of his former student" is a participial phrase describing "an account of the professor's research and teachings." The "account" doesn't do anything in this sentence or have anything done to it.

"An account of the professor's research and teachings being lengthy described in the autobiography of his former student." - This sentence contains two errors. One error is its use of the adjective "lengthy." "Lengthy" is used like an adverb to modify "described," but adjectives can't modify verbs, so this sentence is incorrect. The sentence's other error is in its use of the word "being," which does not make sense. To be read as a present progressive verb, "being" would need to be preceded by "is." Even if "being" were read as beginning a participial phrase, the sentence would remain incomplete.

"The professor's student, in his autobiography, lengthy describes an account of the professor's teachings and research. " - This sentence reproduces the "lengthy" error discussed in the previous answer choice, and it also contains an ambiguous pronoun. "His" could refer to either the professor or the professor's student.

"The professor's student, whose autobiography describes at length an account of the professor's research and teachings." - This sentence is also an incomplete sentence; it consists of a subject and lacks a predicate. The participial phrase "whose autobiography describes at length an account of the Professor's research and teachings" describes "The professor's student," but the sentence lacks a verb to tell us what "the professor's student" does in the sentence.

"An account of the professor's research and teachings is described in great detail in the autobiography of his former student." - This sentence has no errors.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Ambiguous Modifier Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Young drivers in my grandfather's town often make the mistake of driving through red lights, they also are known for ignoring speed limits. 

Possible Answers:

 through red lights; also known 

 through red lights, the other is

through red lights; additionally, they are known 

 through red lights, they also are known 

 through red lights, additionally they are also known

Correct answer:

through red lights; additionally, they are known 

Explanation:

"Young drivers in my grandfather's town often make the mistake of driving through red lights, they also are known for ignoring speed limits. " - This sentence fails to properly separate two indepdendent clauses, creating a run-on sentence error.

Young drivers in my grandfather's town often make the mistake of driving through red lights; also known for ignoring speed limits." - This sentence includes improper semicolon usage.

"Young drivers in my grandfather's town often make the mistake of driving through red lights, additionally they are also known for ignoring speed limits." - This sentence also contains a run-on sentence error. "Additionally" and "also" are also redundant when used in the same clause.

"Young drivers in my grandfather's town often make the mistake of driving through red lights, the other is for ignoring speed limits." - This sentence has two errors. It is a run-on sentence, and it is ambiguous what the "other" represents.

"Young drivers in my grandfather's town often make the mistake of driving through red lights; additionally, they are known for ignoring speed limits." - This sentence has no errors. 

Example Question #3 : Correcting Modifier Placement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Having difficulty swallowing, Vitamin C are a supplement children don't usually take.

Possible Answers:

Children don't usually take the supplement Vitamin C, having difficulty swallowing it.

Vitamin C, a supplement children don't usually take, having difficulty swallowing it. 

Children don't usually take the supplement Vitamin C because they have difficulty swallowing it. 

Vitamin C are a supplement children don't usually take, because they have difficulty swallowing it. 

Having difficulty swallowing, Vitamin C are a supplement children don't usually take.

Correct answer:

Children don't usually take the supplement Vitamin C because they have difficulty swallowing it. 

Explanation:

"Having difficulty swallowing, Vitamin C are a supplement children don't usually take." - This sentence contains two errors. There is a subject-verb agreement problem between "Vitamin C" and "are"; since the subject is singular, the verb shouldn't be plural. As the sentence is framed now, "having difficulty swallowing," while true of "children," could easily apply to the "Vitamin C" itself.

"Vitamin C are a supplement children don't usually take, because they have difficulty swallowing it. " - This sentence contains two errors. There is a subject-verb agreement between "Vitamin C" and "are"; since the subject is singular, the verb shouldn't be plural. Additionally, there is an uneccessary comma after "take."

"Vitamin C, a supplement children don't usually take, having difficulty swallowing it. " - This sentence contains a verb tense error. "Having" both indicates the possessive and is in the wrong tense.

"Children don't usually take the supplement Vitamin C, having difficulty swallowing it." - This sentence contains a verb tense error. "Having" is in the wrong tense.

"Children don't usually take the supplement Vitamin C because they have difficulty swallowing it." - This sentence has no errors.

Example Question #4 : Correcting Modifier Placement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

It ought to be your mother with who you cut the cake, not I. 

Possible Answers:

It ought to be your mother, she with whom you cut the cake, not I. 

It ought to be your mother with whom you cut the cake, not me. 

It ought to be your mother with who you cut the cake, not me.

It ought to be your mother with whom you cut the cake, not I.

It ought to be she, your mother with whom you cut the cake, not me.

Correct answer:

It ought to be your mother with whom you cut the cake, not me. 

Explanation:

"It ought to be your mother with whom you cut the cake, not I." - This sentence contains one error. At the end of the sentence, "I" constitutes improper pronoun usage. It should read "me."

"It ought to be she, your mother with whom you cut the cake, not me." - This sentence contains a comma error. The interrupting phrase "your mother" was not correctly enclosed with commas.

"It ought to be your mother, she with whom you cut the cake, not I. " - This sentence is unnecessarily and confusingly worded. "she with whom you cut the cake" is a very awkward and confusing way of framing the sentence. Additionally, at the end of the sentence, "I" constitutes improper pronoun usage. It should read "me."

"It ought to be your mother with who you cute the cake, not me." - This sentence contains one error. "Who" is an incorrect object pronoun to use with "mother." In this situation, "whom" is correct.

"It ought to be your mother with whom you cut the cake, not me. " - This sentence has no errors. 

Example Question #5 : Correcting Modifier Placement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The thief evaded authorities for a long time because he conducted himself as though he was a bank teller.

Possible Answers:

as though he were a bank teller.

as though he was a bank teller.

as if he was bank teller.

like he was a bank teller.

like as if he was a bank teller.

Correct answer:

as though he were a bank teller.

Explanation:

"The thief evaded authorities for a long time because he conducted himself as though he was a bank teller." - This sentence contains one error. When describing hypothetical or untrue situations the subjunctive verb mood, in this case "were," is required.

"The thief evaded authorities for a long time because he conducted himself like he was a bank teller." - This sentence contains two errors. When describing hypothetical or untrue situations the subjunctive verb mood, in this case "were," is required. Additionally, it is better to use "as though" rather than "like" in this situation. "Like" is better used when placed right next to an active verb, is in: "he acted like a bank teller."

"The thief evaded authorities for a long time because he conducted himself like as if he was a bank teller." - This sentence contains two errors. When describing hypothetical or untrue situations the subjunctive verb mood, in this case "were," is required. Additionally, "like as if" is repetition therefore redundant and improper diction.

"The thief evaded authorities for a long time because he conducted himself as if he was bank teller." - This sentence contains two errors. When describing hypothetical or untrue situations the subjunctive verb mood, in this case "were," is required. Also, the sentence is missing an indefinite article before "bank teller."

"The thief evaded authorities for a long time because he conducted himself as though he were a bank teller." - This sentence has no errors. 

Example Question #2 : Correcting Ambiguous Modifier Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Some scientific discoveries serve specific purposes for those researchers which desire to gain knowledge from them.

 

Possible Answers:

which desire to gain knowledge from them. 

who desire they gain knowledge from them.

who desire to gain knowledge from them. 

that desires to gain knowledge from them. 

who desire about knowledge to be gained. 

Correct answer:

who desire to gain knowledge from them. 

Explanation:

"Some scientific discoveries serve specific purposes for those researchers which desire to gain knowledge from them." - This sentence contains an error. "Which" is the improper pronoun for "researchers." Because researchers are, in fact, people, the correct pronoun is "who."

"Some scientific discoveries serve specific purposes for those researchers that desires to gain knowledge from them ." - This sentence contains two errors. "Which" is the pronoun for "researchers." Additionally, there is a Subject-Verb agreement error. "Researchers" is plural, but "desires" fits with singular subjects.

"Some scientific discoveries serve specific purposes for those researchers who desire they gain knowledge from them." - This sentence contains a diction error; "they gain knowledge from them" is improper diction, as it is unnecessary and imprecise.

"Some scientific discoveries serve specific purposes for those researchers who desire about knowledge to be gained." - This sentence contains one error. To "desire about" is an improper idiom. 

"Some scientific discoveries serve specific purposes for those researchers who desire to gain knowledge from them." - This sentence has no errors. 

Example Question #7 : Correcting Modifier Placement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Athletes who train sporadically achieve poor results in competition.

Possible Answers:

Athletes who train sporadically tend to achieve poor results in competition.

Athletes: who train sporadically poor results achieve in competition.

Athletes who train sporadically achieve poor results in competition.

Athletes what train sporadically achieve poor results in competition.

Athletes who train; sporadically achieve poor results in competition.

Correct answer:

Athletes who train sporadically tend to achieve poor results in competition.

Explanation:

"Athletes who train sporadically achieve poor results in competition." - Includes a kind of ambiguous modifier error sometimes called a squinting modifiers. Squinting modifiers occur when a word is placed in a sentence such that the modifier could apply to both parts of the sentence. In this case it is not clear if "athletes" who do not train consistently "achieve poor results in competition," or if "athletes who train" in general only "sporadically achieve poor results in competition." Often, sentences with squinting modifiers need to be reframed, so as to put the modifier clearly beside the element of the sentence it modifies.

"Athletes what train sporadically achieve poor results in competition." - This option includes the same ambiguous modifier error as previously discussed, and makes the additional error of incorrectly replacing "who" with "what." Athletes are people, and therefore "who" is correct in this instance.

"Athletes who train; sporadically achieve poor results in competition." - This option does not feature the same ambiguous modifier, as in this instance "sporadically" must modify the frequency with which "poor results" are achieved; however, this sentence incorrectly uses a semicolon, creating two sentence fragments.

"Athletes: who train sporadically poor results achieve in competition." - This sentence incorrectly uses a colon after just a proper noun. Colons must be preceded by a full independent clause.

"Athletes who train sporadically tend to achieve poor results in competition." This option has no errors. It is the most correct and precise re-framing of the example sentence. Inserting "tend to" effectively separates the modifier "sporadically" from the part of the sentence it does not modify, without altering the meaning of the sentence too significantly.

Example Question #3 : Correcting Ambiguous Modifier Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Stopping as fast as he could, Jim's car narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian.

Possible Answers:

the car that belonged to Jim narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian.

Jim's car avoided, quite narrowly, the hitting of the pedestrian.

Jim narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian with his car.

Jim's car narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian.

hitting the pedestrian was avoided by the car.

Correct answer:

Jim narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian with his car.

Explanation:

"Stopping as fast as he could, Jim's car narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian." This sentence includes a dangling-modifier. "Stopping as fast as he could" logically refers to Jim; however, the subject of the second sentence is "Jim's car." Since intent is ascribed to the stopping, it logically stands that the best way to fix this problem would be to make Jim the subject of the main clause.

"Jim's car avoided, quite narrowly, the hitting of the pedestrian." - This option fails to rectify the dangling-modifier, and also adds confusing, incorrect, and imprecise verbiage to the main clause.

"the car that belonged to Jim narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian." - This option again fails to rectify the dangling-modifier, it also introduces the unnecessary and awkward "the car that belonged to Jim" construction.

"the car narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian." - This option eschews mention of Jim entirely, thus creating an inconsistency with the first clause, which contains the pronoun "he."

"hitting the pedestrian was avoided by the car." - This option still includes a dangling modifier, and re-phrases the main clause unnecessarily and confusingly.

"Stopping as fast as he could, Jim narrowly avoided hitting the pedestrian with his car." - This is the correct version of the example sentence.

Example Question #9 : Correcting Modifier Placement Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Happily, Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work.

Possible Answers:

Happily; Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work.

Happily, Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work.

Happily Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work.

Ronald's boss asked to meet happily with Ronald after work.

Happily for Ronald, his boss asked to meet with him after work.

Correct answer:

Happily for Ronald, his boss asked to meet with him after work.

Explanation:

"Happily, Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work." - This sentence features an unclear, or ambiguous, modifier. Since the main clause is talking about two people, Ronald and his boss, it is unclear, in this situation, to whom the modifier "happily" applies. Is it a happy occurence for Ronald, or does "happily" describe his boss' manner when asking the question? In cases where two people are being discussed, and one of them described, it is best to be as clear as possible about who is being described.

"Happily Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work." - This option still includes an ambiguous modifier, and, additionally, misses a comma after the introductory phrase "happily."

"Ronald's boss asked to meet happily with Ronald after work." - This option moves the modifier into the main body of the sentence, but does little to make that modifier less ambiguous.

"Happily; Ronald's boss asked to meet with Ronald after work." - This option, once again, does not clear up the dangling modifier, and makes a sizeable error of punctuation by using a semicolon to incorrectly separate a dependent clause. 

"Happily for Ronald, his boss asked to meet with him after work." - This option correctly addresses the modifier ambiguity.

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