GMAT Sentence Correction: Modifiers

    Sayantani Barman Sayantani Barman
    Study Abroad Expert

    GMAC conducts GMAT for those who want to pursue business management careers. GMAT Sentence Correction is one of the 3 verbal sections which have around 12 or 14 of these sentence corrections out of the total 36 verbal questions as stated in the GMAT syllabus. In general, the sentence correction section is the easiest verbal section to make improvements on and once the candidate understands how to think and approach this question type, they can be the easiest to approach in this examination.

    GMAT Modifiers and its types

    Modifiers are essentially a group of words that describe other units in a sentence, regardless of whether a modifier is a word or a phrase or what it modifies. When it is used in a sentence, the meaning of the sentence must be absolutely clear. Modifiers can act as adjectives, describing nouns and pronouns or they can act as adverbs, describing verbs, clauses, and other adjectives.

    • Adjectives: Words that modify nouns and pronouns.
      • Statement: The stay in the red house across the street.
      • Modifier: In this ‘red’ is the adjective modifying the house.
    • Adverbs: They modify verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
      • Statement: This is a very good book. The boy ran quickly.
      • Modifier: In his example, ‘very’ and ‘quickly’ are adverbs.
    • Modifier phrases: The modifier phrases can modify an action or the doer of action. For example, ‘Looking at the clock, he noticed that he was late.’

    It is important to understand that most of the modifier questions and common modifier mistakes on the GMAT exam are related to the noun modifiers since the Verb modifiers simply have looser rules as there is quite a bit of freedom in where a verb modifier could be placed in a sentence.

    Types of GMAT Modifier Errors

    The candidate taking the GMAT exam can face up to three kinds of errors pertaining to modifiers in the GMAT Sentence Correction part of the Verbal Ability section. These are:

    • Dangling Modifiers
    • Misplaced Modifiers
    • Squinting Modifiers

    Error Type 1: Dangling Modifiers

    In a sentence, if the unit described by the modifier is not explicitly stated, then we have what is called as a dangling modifier. The terminology is pretty straight forward as dangling means something that dangles i.e. something that cannot logically point to anything in the sentence.

    Let us take a look at an example to better understand the concept of Dangling Modifiers in the GMAT Sentence Correction.

    Incorrect Statement: ‘Driving on the b-40 freeway, New York strip came into view.’

    As per the example sentence above, it appears that “New York strip” was driving, but this is absolutely wrong because as per common sense and general knowledge, we know that the New York strip is a place and it cannot drive.

    Author’s perspective: The author intended to say that at a certain point when he/she was driving on b-40 freeway, the strip came into view. 

    Correct Statement: ‘Driving on the b-40 freeway, I saw the New York strip.’

    Explanation: So the corrected sentence should contain the “I” since “I” is being described by the modifier, and by changing the voice of the sentence from passive voice to active voice and introducing the term “I” to reflect the logical meaning that can be inferred from this sentence.

    Let us take a look at another example of dangling modifiers in GMAT.

    Incorrect Statement: ‘At the age of five, the family purchased a television.’

    As written, this sentence implies that the family was 5 years old when it purchased the television. This is clearly nonsensical and has errors in it.

    Author’s perspective: The author actually intended to say that when he/she was 5 years old, his/her family purchased a television. So, the sentence can be reworded as shown.

    Correct Statement: When I was five years old, my family purchased a television.

    Explanation: As you can see, now the modifier phrase has been converted into another dependent clause. All these can be excelled after practicing GMAT sample papers thoroughly. 

    Error Type 2: Misplaced Modifiers

    For a sentence to communicate the meaning with clarity and precision, the placement of modifiers is very critical to properly communicate the meaning. This becomes more evident if the modifiers are not placed appropriately close to the entity they modify. In such cases, the sentence fails to communicate the intended meaning with clarity. 

    Let us take a look at an example to better understand the concept of Misplaced Modifiers in the GMAT Sentence Correction.

    Incorrect Statement: ‘To be grilled properly, you must preheat the oven before placing chicken in it.’

    Now, once the candidate goes through the above example statement, as the questions - what is to be grilled properly? The first reading of the sentence implies that “you” need to be grilled well. This does not make any sense and can be disregarded.

    Author’s perspective: Upon reading the sentence again, one can infer the intention of the author which could be that in order to grill the chicken well, the oven must be pre-heated. Thus, as the candidate can easily see that this sentence is not successful in communicating the meaning clearly, there is a need to correct it which can be done by simply rewording the sentence.

    Correct Statement 1: ‘To grill the chicken properly, you must preheat the oven before placing the chicken in it.’

    Explanation: In this sentence, the modifier “to grill the chicken properly” now describes the action that follows i.e. the purpose of doing the action of “pre-heat”.

    However, the candidate can even correct this statement through another method, as there are multiple ways to correct sentences.

    Correct Statement 2: ‘You must preheat the oven before placing the chicken in it to properly grill the chicken.’

    Explanation: In this reworded sentence, the modifier “to properly grill the chicken” now describes the preceding clause as it shows the purpose of doing the action of “must preheat”.

    Let us take a look at another example of misplaced modifiers in GMAT.

    Incorrect Statement: ‘Designed for drivability in rocky terrain, the car manufacturer released its new truck with hummer-like design.’

    As per this statement, it appears as the car manufacturer was designed for being driven in the rocky terrain, this is because of the placement of the modifier which clearly does not make any sense. This can be corrected in multiple ways:

    Correct Statement 1: ‘Designed for drivability in rocky terrain, a new truck with hummer-like design was released by the car manufacturer.’

    Correct Statement 2: ‘The car manufacturer released its new truck, with hummer-like design, designed for drivability in rocky terrain.’

    The underlying principle behind a correctly written sentence is that it should communicate the intended meaning without any ambiguity whatsoever. The preparation tips for GMAT are great helpers in solving these verbal issues. 

    Error Type 3: Squinting Modifiers

    Squinting modifiers are the toughest to spot as here, the modifier can modify more than one thing, and the reader is confused as to which one to choose. However, the most common errors are the result of the words “only”, “except”, “almost” and other adverbs. Let us take a look at an example to better understand the concept of Squinting Modifiers in the GMAT Sentence Correction.

    Incorrect Statement: I am only watching positive news these days

    The above example statement will confuse the reader as to whether the author is watching positive news and nothing else, or while watching the news, the author watches only positive news. It is essential to understand that squinting modifiers are so common that the test takers have developed immunity towards such error.

    Correct Statement: I am watching only positive news these days

    Explanation: Note down words before and after modifiers like “only” as words like “only”, “except”, “almost” and other adverbs should not come between two phrases or between two discrete words that can both be described by the modifier.

    How to handle the GMAT Sentence Correction Modifiers?

    Modifier errors may manifest in an incorrectly written sentence majorly in three different ways as discussed above:

    • Dangling Modifiers
    • Misplaced Modifiers
    • Squinting Modifiers

    Even though there are no common methods to solve these errors, we can follow a consistent approach to address such errors with a step by step process:

    • Read the sentence and understand what it intends to communicate.
    • After understanding the sentence, the candidate must pay attention to each and every modifier identifying their importance in the sentence.
    • Next step is to logically assess if the modification is logical or not.
    • In case the modification is illogical, the candidate can think about the intended meaning and identify what it should logically modify.
    • Candidates are recommended to make appropriate adjustments in the sentence.
    • Also, since there can be more than one way to correct a sentence.

    The Modifier Touch Rule

    While the candidates preparing for the GMAT Sentence Correction can follow the above-mentioned steps for finding the answer. The modifier touch is another important grammar rule for GMAT Sentence Correction which can help the candidate to solve most of the problems related to the modifiers. 

    The Touch Rule says that the ‘noun’ modifier should be adjacent to the ‘noun’ it modifies and if there is any violation of this rule, the error is due to a misplaced modifier.

    However, these rules as with almost anything in grammar, the Modifier Touch Rule is not a mathematically precise rule and admits of exceptions where one of the biggest exceptions involves the distinction of vital vs. non-vital noun modifiers. 

    The candidate must understand that a vital noun modifier always has logical priority over a non-vital noun modifier, and thus could even prevent a non-vital modifier from “touching” the noun as it comes between the non-vital modifier and the noun.

    *The article might have information for the previous academic years, which will be updated soon subject to the notification issued by the University/College


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