SAT 2016



Rule 5: Use Modifiers Effectively

Lesson 12: Don’t let your participles dangle

Which is correct?

A.   Widely considered one of the most challenging pieces for piano, Franz Liszt stretched the boundaries of musical technique with his Etude no. 5.

B.   Widely considered one the most challenging pieces for piano, Franz Liszt’s Etude no. 5 stretches the boundaries of musical technique.

Sentence A includes a dangling participle. The past participle considered requires a subject. Since participial phrases don’t include their own subjects, they must “borrow” them from the main clause. What is the subject of the participle? That is, what, exactly, is considered one of the most challenging pieces for piano? Surely not Franz Liszt—he is the composer. It is Etude no. 5. Because the subject of the main clause should also be the subject of the participial phrase, the correct choice is B.

When a participial phrase begins a sentence, its subject should be the subject of the main clause that follows. Otherwise, it is called a dangling participle.

What are participles, anyway?

Participles are verb forms, like broken and thinking, that cannot stand by themselves as verbs. They are only part of the verb, hence the name “participle.” Notice, for instance, that we can’t say

She broken the plate.

We thinking about you.

Each participle requires a helping verb to complete the verb phrase and make a sensible clause:

She has broken the plate.

We were thinking about you.

Present participles like eatingfighting, and interrupting always end in -ingPast participles, however, fall under two categories: “regular” past participles like straightened and pushed end in -ed, but “irregular” past participles can take many forms, like foughtbeeneatenswum, andseen. For a list of some common irregular forms, see Lesson 25.

In English, we use present participles (with the helping verb to be) in verbs with the progressive aspect (Lesson 23), such as I am eating and I had been eating. We use past participles (with the helping verb to have) in verbs with the consequential aspect (Lesson 23) such as I have eatenand I had eaten.

When participles appear without their helping verbs, they act as adjectives, and their phrases are called participial phrases. Here are some more examples:

When designing a user interfacesoftware engineers should focus on simplicity.

Although pleased with her victoryAngela knew that she still had more work to do.

Lesson 13: Know where to place your modifiers

Which is correct?

A.   In an emergency, I am amazed at how calm Marco can be.

B.   I am amazed at how calm Marco can be in an emergency.

What does the prepositional phrase in an emergency modify? It answers the question When can Marco be calm? rather than When can I be amazed? Since it modifies the second verb rather than the first verb, B is the better choice.

Any modifier or modifying phrase should be placed as close (or “proximate”) as possible to the word it modifies without disrupting the sentence. This is called the Law of Proximity. Modifiers or modifying phrases that violate this rule are called misplaced modifiers.

Which is correct?

C.   A splendid example of synthetic cubism, Picasso painted Three Musicians in the summer of 1924.

D.   Picasso painted Three Musicians, a splendid example of synthetic cubism, in the summer of 1924.

What does the appositive phrase a splendid example of synthetic cubism modify? It answers the question What is The Three Musicians? rather than Who was Picasso? Since it modifies the second noun, not the first, choice D is correct.

Which is correct?

E.   To illustrate his point, we watched Mr. Genovese take out a giant boa constrictor.

F.   We watched Mr. Genovese take out a giant boa constrictor to illustrate his point.

What does the infinitive phrase to illustrate his point modify? It answers the question Why did he take it out? rather than Why did we watch it? Since it modifies the second verb rather than the first, choice F is correct.

Exercise 6: Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

Rewrite each underlined portion, if necessary, to correct any dangling or misplaced modifiers.

1.  Rounding the bend, the pub of my dreams finally came into view.

2.  Although emotionally drained, Martha’s creative instinct compelled her to keep writing.

3.  Determined to avenge his friend, the sword was unsheathed by Claudius.

4.  To find a good Thai restaurant, there are a lot of apps and websites to help you.

5.  Even with a sprained ankle, the coach forced Adam back into the game.

6.  We found my lost earrings walking back to my car.

7.  Lacking any real sailing skills, David’s primary concern was keeping the boat upright.

8.  Already exhausted from the day’s climb, the looming storm forced the hikers to pitch an early camp.

9.  Thinking that her friends were behind her, it frightened Allison to realize that she was alone.

10.  Without being aware of it, termites can infest your home unless you take proper precautions.

11.  Always regarded as a dutiful mother, we were surprised to hear Carol complaining about domestic life.

12.  To get a good jump out of the starting blocks, sprinters say that proper hip positioning is essential.

13.  Seeking ways to reduce the budget deficit, proposals for cutbacks are being considered by the town council.

14.  Although unhappy with the tone of the debate, the senator’s plan was to remain calm and rational.

15.  Famous for its visual arts scene, Portland’s musical culture is also a source of local pride.

16.  Without seeming to move a muscle, the coin disappeared instantly from the magician’s hand.

17.  To maintain good health, physicians recommend both vigorous exercise and disciplined eating.

18.  After searching for months for the perfect rug, one appeared as we were exploring a garage sale.

Lesson 14: Don’t confuse adjectives and adverbs

Which is correct?

A.   I was impressed by how poised he was and how cogent his argument was presented.

B.   I was impressed by how poised he was and how cogent his argument was.

C.   I was impressed by how poised he was and how cogently he presented his argument.

At first, reading, sentence A seems to follow the law of parallelism: it follows the formula I was impressed by A and B, and the phrases how poised and how cogent have the same form. However, the adjective in the second phrase is misused: we cannot say his argument was presented cogent, but rather his argument was presented cogently. Action verbs like presented can only be modified by adverbs, not adjectives. Sentence B corrects the modifier error but uses stilted phrasing. Sentence C, the best of the three, although less strictly parallel than sentence B, corrects the modifier error in A and the stiffness of sentence B.

Don’t use an adjective to do the job of an adverb. Many popular advertisements grab your attention by replacing adverbs with adjectives, as in Think differentEat freshShine bright, and Live strong. But in Standard English, adjectives are strictly noun modifiers. If you want to modify a verb (or an adjective or another adverb), only an adverb will do. Most adverbs end in -ly (as in profoundlyquickly, and desperately), but many common ones do not.

Common adverbs that do NOT end in -ly:


Common adjectives that DO end in -ly:


Common words that can serve EITHER as adjectives or adverbs:


If you have trouble deciding between using an adjective and using an adverb, ask: “What question does this word answer?” If it is a question about a noun or pronoun, the modifier must be an adjective. If it is a question about a verb, adjective, or another adverb, the modifier must be an adverb.

Lesson 15: Know when to use -er, -est, more, and most

Which is correct?

A.   I don’t know which is most troubling: your apathy or your incompetence.

B.   I don’t know which is more troubling: your apathy or your incompetence.

Sentence A is comparing only two things: apathy and incompetence, so it must use the comparative form, more, instead of most. Sentence B is correct.

If a sentence compares two things at a time (we call this a binary comparison), it must use a comparative adjective, that is, one that use -er or more. If the sentence singles out one thing from a group of three or more, it must use a superlative adjective, that is, one that uses -est ormost.

Which is correct?

C.   Your dog couldn’t be adorabler.

D.   Your dog couldn’t be more adorable.

Which is correct?

E.   Incorporating the company was more simple than I expected.

F.   Incorporating the company was simpler than I expected.

When do we use -er, and when do we use more? The rule is actually pretty straightforward.

If an adjective has just one or two syllables, it usually takes the -er suffix (e.g., fasterstrongersillier), but if it has more than two syllables, it usually takes more (e.g., more beautifulmore outrageousmore desperate).

However, monosyllabic past participles, when used as adjectives, also tend to take more rather than -er: we say more set in his ways rather than setter in his ways, more shocked rather than shockeder, and more tired rather than tireder.

Fun is another interesting exception. Although something that is comparatively funny is funnier, something that is comparatively fun is more fun. For some reason, Standard English has decided against funner.

So, in the sample sentences, choices D and F are correct.

Which is correct?

G.   Please hold the baby gentler next time.

H.   Please hold the baby more gently next time.

Here, the problem with sentence G is the problem we discussed in Lesson 14: an adjective is being used where an adverb is required. Since the modifier is answering the question “How should one hold the baby?” it is answering a question about the verb hold, and therefore should take the adverbial form more gently.

Which is correct?

J.   Annie is the most unique person I know.

K.   Annie is unique.

The adjective unique is known as an “absolute” or “superlative” adjective. It comes from the Latin uni, meaning “one,” and it means “one of a kind.” Therefore, tacking on most is redundant. Sentence K makes the same point without the redundancy.

Don’t modify absolutes like perfectuniquesingular, or obliterated unless you are trying to be ironic.

Exercise 7: Using Modifiers Correctly

Correct any modifier problems in the sentences below.

1.  In the second debate, the councilwoman made her points much stronger than she did in the first one.

2.  My shirt smelled foully after rugby practice.

3.  We never usually get to go on such exotic vacations.

4.  My father is the most patient of my parents, but my mother is more knowledgeable about relationships.

5.  The sixth graders weren’t hardly interested in going to the museum after school.

6.  I can run a marathon easier than I can swim three miles.

7.  As you revise your essay, try to express your thoughts clearer and develop your ideas more.

8.  The chemistry final was much more easy than the last two chapter tests.

9.  Caroline’s sculpture was the most unique among the entries.

10.  These cost-cutting measures won’t barely address the budget deficit.

11.  The teacher never told us about the test until the day before.

12.  Students never usually verify the “facts” they use in their research papers.