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Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Category:
Modifier Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • While visiting the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Johnson's hat was blown into the harbor waters and quickly sank beneath the turbulent waves.
  • Unaware the loudspeaker system's microphone was on, the entire school was treated to the principal's musical humming.
Different variations of this error are referred to as "dangling modifiers" or "misplaced modifiers" or "squinting modifiers," but the underlying principle is simple: modifying phrases should be next to the nouns or pronouns that they re modifying. Whenever a sentence begins with a modifying phrase followed by a comma, the subject of that modifier follows immediately after the comma.

In the first example, "Mr. Johnson's hat" is the subject being modified by the opening phrase, "while visiting the Statue of Liberty." That's clearly not what the speaker really meant, but that's literally what the sentence is saying. Modifier errors are easy to read right past if you're not on the lookout because your brain subconsciously realizes the intended meaning—here that Mr. Johnson was visiting the Statue of Liberty—and so ignores the literal meaning.

So you can understand the logic of this important grammatical principle, let's reverse the order of the sentence and put the modifying phrase at the end: Mr. Johnson's hat was blown into the harbor waters and quickly sank beneath the turbulent waves while visiting the Statue of Liberty. The sentence's meaning is now unclear: while who was visiting the Statue of Liberty? A grammatically correct version of the sentence would be, While Mr. Johnson was visiting the Statue of Liberty, his hat was blown into the harbor waters and quickly sank beneath the turbulent waves.

The intended meaning of the second sentence was that the principal was unaware the microphone was on, but that's not what the sentence says. The sentence says that the entire school was unaware the microphone was on. A grammatically correct version of this sentence would be, Unaware the loudspeaker system's microphone was on, the principal treated the entire school to his musical humming.

Whenever a sentence begins with a phrase followed by a comma, make sure that what immediately follows is the subject of that phrase! These phrases often include a word ending in ing (like visiting, as in the first example), but not always (as in the second example).

Related Errors
If this type of error tends to trip you up, you should also review the following categories:

  • ambiguity
  • comparison errors
  • logic errors


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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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