Unit 15: Misplaced Modifiers

Introduction to Modifiers

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides more information about another element in the sentence. Modifiers are crucial for adding detail and meaning to sentences. However, when placed incorrectly, they can lead to confusion. This lesson will focus on identifying and correcting misplaced modifiers on the SAT.

What is a Misplaced Modifier?

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that is separated from the word it modifies. This separation can confuse the reader because the modifier appears to be describing the wrong element of the sentence.

Examples of Misplaced Modifiers
  1. Misplaced: The dog was walked in the park with a blue leash.
    • Correct: The dog with a blue leash was walked in the park.
  2. Misplaced: She served sandwiches to the children on paper plates.
    • Correct: She served sandwiches on paper plates to the children.

In the first example, it sounds like the park has a blue leash, which doesn’t make sense. The correction clarifies that it’s the dog that has the blue leash. In the second example, the misplaced modifier makes it sound as if the children are on paper plates, which is illogical. The correction makes it clear that the sandwiches are served on paper plates.

  1. Flying high in the sky, the girl watched the eagle.

In this case, it should be the eagle flying high in the sky, not the girl as the sentence indicates. There are multiple ways to fix this sentence, but ultimately it must be clear that it is the eagle flying and not the girl. “The girl watched the eagle flying high in the sky” would be one appropriate way to fix it.

Identifying Misplaced Modifiers

To identify a misplaced modifier, look for these signs:

  • Illogical Meaning: If placing the modifier elsewhere in the sentence clears up the confusion, it’s misplaced.
  • Distance from the Target: The modifier is far from the word it’s supposed to modify.
  • Interruption: If inserting the modifier closer to its target word makes the sentence flow better, it was likely misplaced.

Strategy:

  • Identify the Modifier: Determine what word or phrase is the modifier in the sentence.
  • Find the Target: Decide what word the modifier is supposed to describe.
  • Move Closer: Place the modifier next to its intended target to clear up any ambiguity.

Let’s look at an example you might see on the Digital SAT:

During her lecture on Renaissance art, the painting was analyzed by Professor Smith with keen insights, which the students found highly informative.

Which choice corrects the misplaced modifier in the sentence?

A) During her lecture on Renaissance art, Professor Smith analyzed the painting with keen insights, which the students found highly informative.
B) The painting, which Professor Smith analyzed with keen insights, was during her lecture on Renaissance art highly informative to the students.
C) With keen insights, the students found the painting highly informative, which Professor Smith analyzed during her lecture on Renaissance art.
D) The painting with keen insights was analyzed by Professor Smith during her lecture on Renaissance art, which the students found highly informative.

In the original sentence, the modifier “During her lecture on Renaissance art” is misplaced because it appears to modify “the painting” rather than “Professor Smith,” which can misleadingly suggest that the painting itself is giving a lecture. To fix this misplaced modifier, we should move the modifier closer to what it is modifying which is “Professor Smith”.

Option A corrects this by clearly stating that it is Professor Smith who is performing the analysis during her lecture. The other options either maintain the misplaced modifier or introduce new issues, such as illogical sentence structure or additional misplaced modifiers. Option A is the best choice because it positions the modifier correctly and the sentence flows logically, clearly conveying that it was Professor Smith’s analysis of the painting during her lecture that the students found informative.