“Hey, have you seen my modifier? I must have misplaced it.” Nah, that’s not what I mean. The “modifier” I’m writing about is a clause that “modifies” (basically describes, gives us details about, qualifies, whatever you want to say) another word or phrase. The placement of a modifier is very important, not only on the SAT and the ACT, but also in any good piece of writing.
For example, let’s look at the sentence “Because he was drunk in public, the police officer arrested the old wino.” Was the police officer drunk in public, and going around arresting people while intoxicated? I hope not, and that probably wasn’t the writer’s intent. So let’s rewrite it as “The police officer arrested the wino because he was drunk in public.” While that’s still a little ambiguous, since “he” could refer to the police officer or the wino (unless we already know one of them is female), it’s less likely to make the reader think some drunk cop was staggering around harassing homeless alcoholics. Perhaps an even better revision would be “The police officer arrested the old wino, who was drunk in public,” or even “The police officer arrested the wino for public intoxication.”
A very old Groucho Marx joke (not that there are any new ones- Groucho’s been gone a long time) went something like “On safari in Africa, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How it got into my pajamas, I’ll never know!” The reason it’s funny (come on, it’s at least worth a little chuckle) is that our brains automatically correct the misplaced modifier to make the sentence make sense. Groucho lets us know “No, the modifier is in the correct place; the ELEPHANT was in my pajamas!” (Insert rimshot here).
When answering sentence correction problems on the SAT or ACT, remember the modifier should be immediate next to the noun it modifies. The noun should come right after the comma that ends the modifier. Instead of writing “Old and rusty, the storage unit manager had to cut the lock off with bolt cutters,” write “Old and rusty, the lock had to be cut off with bolt cutters by storage unit manager.” While the latter sentence is still poorly written, it might be the best of several horrible choices given on the SAT or ACT, since it’s grammatically correct, even though it’s clunky. A better rewrite of the same sentence would be “The storage unit manager had to cut the old, rusty lock off with bolt cutters.”
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.