SAT Essay Help: Modifiers, Pronouns and Punctuation Help (page 4)
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.
Punctuation of Complex Sentences
Varying sentence structures in an SAT essay isn't optional. It's one of five elements scorers are looking for. While including some short and some long sentences does count as variety, there's a more interesting—and eye-catching— way to achieve the kind of diversity that gets you a higher score. Note the difference between the following two sentences:
In his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, he invented the phonograph, made the electric lightbulb, and started the motion picture industry. In his research laboratory (which was located in Menlo Park, New Jersey), he developed some of his most famous inventions: the phonograph, the electric lightbulb, and the motion picture industry.
The addition of parentheses and a colon takes a straightforward sentence and makes it into one that's more complex—and more interesting. (Note the dash in the previous sentence: It's another great way to add variety and emphasis to your sentences.) You no doubt learned about these punctuation marks in elementary school, so here we'll review them only in terms of how their use helps you improve your SAT essay.
Colons can be used to introduce a list when the clause before the colon can stand as a complete sentence on its own.
Incorrect: The classes he signed up for include: geometry, physics, American literature, and religion.
Correct: He signed up for four classes: geometry, physics, American literature, and religion.
Colons can also be used for a restatement or elaboration of the previous clause.
Incorrect: Edison was a prolific inventor: He also lived in New Jersey.
Correct: Edison was a prolific inventor: He created the electric lightbulb, the phonograph, and many other useful items.
Incorrect: Picasso painted Guernica in 1937: He was from Spain.
Correct: Picasso was inspired to paint Guernica in 1937: His work was inspired by the recent destruction of the Spanish city by German bombers.
Colons are an important addition to persuasive essays because they sound authoritative. They present information more confidently and forcefully than if the sentence were divided by other types of punctuation marks. Consider the following:
The effects of climate change are profound: Ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising.
The effects of climate change are profound. Ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising.
The first example conveys a tone of "I know what is happening, and I am going to tell you." It sounds more convincing and—especially when used in your introductory paragraph—establishes your point of view with greater strength.
Semicolons are used to separate independent clauses and to separate the items in a list when those items contain commas.
Here's an example of using a semicolon to join independent clauses without a conjunction:
Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850; it's one of his most famous works.
Here's an example of using a semicolon to join independent clauses that contain commas (it may be used even if the clauses are joined by a conjunction):
The characters are a product of their Boston, Massachusetts environment; but two of them are able to rise beyond the strict, Puritanical, and stifling society.
Here's an example of using a semicolon to join independent clauses that are connected with a conjunctive adverb that expresses a relationship between clauses:
As the Great Depression deepened, a drought spread across the Plains; therefore, crops were destroyed and many farmers lost their jobs.
Semicolons may also be used to separate items in a series that contain commas. Here are examples of using a semicolon to show which sets of items go together:
The climate change subcommittee met on Saturday, January 10; Tuesday, April 14; and Thursday, October 11.
Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in Salem, Massachusetts; Liverpool, England; and Concord, Massachusetts.
Use parentheses to set off information that either clarifies or is used as an aside. (Think of asides as any clause or phrase that could begin with By the way.) Parentheses are especially useful for breaking up sentences in body paragraphs.
The Smoot-Hawley Act (also known as the Tariff Act of 1930) contributed to the length and severity of the Great Depression.
Roger Chillingworth (Hester Prynne's husband in The Scarlet Letter) had an outward appearance that matched his inner deformities.
Dashes are used for emphasis and strike an authoritative tone. You can also add them to set off information that contains one or more internal commas or is lengthy or abrupt. One well-placed dash in either your introduction or conclusion can be an effective way to add weight to your point of view. It shows confidence. But if they're used incorrectly or too frequently, dashes make your writing appear sloppy. Stick to the one dash (or set of dashes) rule per essay.
All of his major inventions—the lightbulb, the phonograph, and motion pictures—helped to make Thomas Edison one of the greatest inventors of the modern age.
Picasso's most famous mural—Guernica—is still celebrated as an anti-war message over 70 years after he painted it.
Dashes may also be used at the end of a list of items to highlight their commonality or focus attention on one aspect of those items. Remember that a colon introduces a list (the list is the second part of the sentence). Be certain the text following the dash is an independent clause.
Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth—these characters exemplify the strains of Puritan society.
Rising ocean temperatures, more severe weather patterns, melting ice caps— what do the effects of climate change have to do with man's activities?
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