Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that provide extra information about other words, phrases, or clauses. Adjectives (the red car, the happy child) are modifiers, as are adverbs (he runs quickly). Adjectives modify nouns; adverbs modify verbs or adjectives.
The list of common modifier errors, and how to handle them, will begin with adjectives and adverbs, and then move on to phrases and clauses.
Having read the sentence and identified a descriptive word, you should then try to determine whether it is an adjective or an adverb.
An easy way to identify adverbs, or to distinguish them from adjectives, is to look at the ending. Most adverbs are formed by adding óly to the adjective, such as: He worked quickly.
After you've identified the word as an adjective or adverb, try to determine whether it is used correctly. Look at the sentence below:
She is a real good swimmer.
This sentence contains a word modifying a noun, and another word modifying an adjective. Are the modifying words used correctly? Break the sentence into parts:
The correct sentence properly replaces the adjective real with the adverb really. Note the difference: really is real with an ly tacked on.
Incorrect: The new student speaks bad.
This sentence contains a word modifying a noun, and another word modifying a verb. In both versions, the adjective "new" is used to modify the noun "student," which is correct. In the incorrect sentence, the word "bad" is used to modify the verb "speaks". But "bad" is an adjective, and adjectives cannot modify verbs. The correct sentence properly replaces the adjective "bad" with the adverb "badly".
These verbs are all "sense verbs,"
or verbs that describe someone's sensation or feeling or perception. Unlike other verbs, they require adjective, not adverb, modifiers.
Incorrect: The strawberry shortcake tastes deliciously.
Sense verbs convey personal opinions, thoughts, and perceptions in an inherently subjective manner. The sentence "The strawberry shortcake tastes delicious" has essentially the same meaning as "The strawberry shortcake tastes delicious to me" or "I think the strawberry shortcake tastes delicious." Because each sentence describes the attributes of the shortcake as seen through the eyes (and mouth) of some observer, the modifier should be identical in all three sentences: the delicious shortcake. When a sense verb is sandwiched between a noun and a modifier, the modifier should agree with the noun.
Some sense verb modifiers are commonly misused in speech. Be especially careful with these: just because they sound right doesn't mean they are right. Sometimes these errors arise from the misinterpretation, or gratuitous application, of a popular grammar rule. Here's a common example:
After she returned from the three-week vacation, she looked very well.
How many times have you heard someone say, "He looks well"? It probably sounds fine, but in fact, this sentence is a comment on the visual abilities of the man in question; it means something like, "He's skilled at looking." Pretty funny – but why is it wrong?
Think about it. Looking at the incorrect sentence, if you place an adverb directly after a verb, then the adverb modifies the verb. But we don't want to describe a verb - we want to describe a woman who just came back from vacation.
"She" is a pronoun, and pronouns (which stand in for nouns) are modified with adjectives. Thus the correct sentence fixes our modification problem by replacing the adverb "well" with the adjective "good".
Incorrect: After she returned from the
three-week vacation, she looked very well.
Note: Unlike "She looks well," the phrase "She is well" can properly be used to mean the equivalent of "She is healthy". Why is this? Click here to find out.
What's wrong with this sentence?
Finally thinking clearly, the book was able to be understood by Rebecca.
The meaning of the sentence seems clear enough: that Rebecca finally understood the book after she started thinking clearly.
But what does the sentence actually say? If you look more closely at the sentence, you'll see that, because of the placement of certain words, the sentence makes the book, not Rebecca, the subject of the sentence: which makes it sound as if the book was thinking clearly, not Rebecca. That's kind of funny – how can a book think clearly? - and not what we meant at all. So what went wrong?
If you'll recall, modifiers are often adjectives or adverbs, as covered above. But modifiers can also be groups of words – phrases or clauses – that act as one to describe another part of the sentence. Like adjectives and adverbs, these multiple-word modifiers must be placed as close as possible to the word or group of words they're modifying: those that fail to observe this rule are called misplaced modifiers.
Misplaced modifiers can be highly deceptive - and are therefore extremely common on the GMAT. Because we know what the sentence means to say, it's easy to miss placement errors unless we're looking for them.
Let's look again at the example above:
Even though the modifier is followed immediately by "the book," we might very easily assume that because a book can't think, we can overlook its placement in the sentence, as the phrase "Finally thinking clearly" must refer to Rebecca. But the GMAT isn't testing our ability to understand mangled sentences; it's testing our understanding of English grammar. And according to the rules of English grammar, a modifier must always be placed as close as possible to the word it's modifying. Thus, this sentence is incorrect because the modifier "Finally thinking clearly" is not immediately followed by what it is modifying: that is, "Rebecca".
Try this next example:
On arriving at the train station, his
friends greeted Jay and took him immediately
Once again, it probably sounds fine at first glance. But break it down, and check to make sure that modifiers (or objects being modified) are placed where they belong.
First find the modifying phrase: look for a descriptive group of words set off by a comma or commas. Here, we have "On arriving at the train station." After you've found the modifier, try to figure out what word/s it should be modifying, and what word/s it is modifying: here, "Jay" should be arriving at the train station, but the modifier is followed directly by the phrase "his friends," which makes it sound like Jay's friends, not Jay himself, arrived at the train station. This is incorrect. Because the modifier must be immediately followed by the word/s being modified, the sentence can be correctly written as:
When rewritten this way, the modifier "On arriving at the train station" is followed directly by "Jay", the person whom the modifier was meant to describe.
Incorrect: On arriving
at the train station, his friends greeted
Jay and took him immediately to his speaking engagement in
Misplaced modifiers won't always occur at the beginning of sentences: any descriptive phrase or clause is a potential misplaced modifier. Just make sure the modifying phrase or clause is as close as possible to the word/s being modified, and watch for these common indicators:
Need more help? Classroom prep and tutoring through our GMAT Course Locator.
800Score.com 244 Fifth Avenue Suite 2638 New York, NY 10001-7604 1.800.789.0402