SAT Essay Help: Modifiers, Pronouns and Punctuation Help
Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers
Dangling and misplaced modifiers, though sometimes difficult to recognize, are easily fixed by rearranging word order. A dangling modifier is a phrase or clause, using a verb ending in -ing, that does not refer to the subject of the sentence it modifies.
Instead of: While working on his English assignment, Tony's computer crashed. (Was the computer working on the assignment?)
Write: While Tony was working on his English assignment, his computer crashed.
Note that correcting a dangling modifier involves adding and/or rearranging the words in a sentence to make the meaning clear.
Instead of: Having been recently fixed, Pedro was able to use the bicycle pump this morning. (Was Pedro recently fixed?)
Write: Since the bicycle pump was recently fixed, Pedro was able to use it this morning.
A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that describes something but is in the wrong place in the sentence. It isn't dangling and no extra words are needed; the modifier is just in the wrong place. The danger of misplaced modifiers, as with dangling modifiers, is that they confuse meaning. Here's an example:
I had to have the cafeteria unlocked meeting with student government this morning.
Did the cafeteria meet with student government? To say exactly what is meant, the modifying phrase meeting with student government this morning should be moved to the beginning of the sentence.
Meeting with student government this morning, I had to have the cafeteria unlocked.
Unclear Pronoun References
Recall that pronouns, such as me, you, he, and she, replace nouns. But when it's not clear what noun the pronoun has replaced or refers to, the meaning of the sentence can get confused. For example:
I went to school every day with Ted and Fred, and we took his car.
Whose car? His could mean either Ted's or Fred's. The writer needs to use a proper name instead of the pronoun in order to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding. Correct it this way: I went to school every day with Ted and Fred, and we took Ted's car.
Here's another example:
They considered publishing our poems in the anthology.
Using a vague they when there are specific people behind an action is another common pronoun error. In this case, though, the writer doesn't know exactly who those people are. However, even without that information, the sentence can be revised to be more precise: The publishing company considered publishing our poems in their anthology.
Here are a few more examples:
Instead of: They passed new environmental legislation yesterday.
Write: The State Senate passed new environmental legislation yesterday.
Instead of: Mr. Jones told James that he had found his missing report.
Write: Mr. Jones told James that he had found James's missing report.
Instead of: They closed the movie theater after they discovered several fire code violations.
Write: The owners of the movie theater closed their doors after they discovered several fire code violations.
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