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Chris Lele

SAT Video Friday – Misplaced Modifiers

Same old tricks; same nasty subtlety

Just because you’ve learned the grab bag of grammar concepts the SAT test does not mean you are going to answer all the SAT questions correctly.  At least on the difficult Writing section questions, you will have to be very alert because the SAT has worked hard to “hide” the grammar concept in a mass of words. On such questions, your number one enemy is sounding it out. That’s right, moving your lips and reading the words to yourself is a recipe for disaster.


The misplaced modifier

But let’s keep that last tidbit for the challenge question. For now, let’s talk about faulty modification, or what is typically referred to as a Misplaced Modifier.

While driving, the car spun out of control.

The phrase “while driving” describes an action. We need to know who is doing this action. In this case, who is driving? The problem is the sentence makes it sound as if the car is driving, since the noun that comes after the phrase, is “car”.  (We’re assuming this is not a Google car!) Since the phrase does not have a subject itself, we need to make sure that the noun that comes right after the comma clearly refers to the phrase.

The best way to rewrite this sentence is to put a noun in the phrase that comes before the independent clause (that’s the one that starts with “car”).

While Mike was driving, the car spun out of control.

While driving, Mike spun out of control.

The second sentence is fine, if you are speaking to your friends. The SAT/formal writing thinks about things a little differently—very literally. In this case, Mike might be spinning out of control while listening to music (which I’ve seen happen to people before).

Typically, the SAT likes to write questions in which the noun doing the verb is already in the sentence; it’s just in the wrong place.

Loving art history, Italy was where Mark chose to study.

Clearly, the country of Italy doesn’t love art history. People in Italy might, but an actual country, you know the one on the map, isn’t capable of loving anything. So we want to move things around:

Loving art history, Mark chose to study in Italy.

Since Mark loved art history, he chose to study in Italy.

The second example is also correct. We just have to make sure that, like in the first sentence, that Mark comes right after the comma. It’s good to start correcting the mistake in your head so you can better anticipate the answer; it’s also good to know that there may be more than way to correct a misplaced modifier. So don’t just scan answer choices that start with “loving art history”, or have “Mark” right after the comma (“he” does just fine, in this case).

Okay, sound good. Now take a look at this doozy of a question. Good luck!


Nasty tricks

In replacing the eye-for-eye form of punishment that pervaded much of Ancient Greece, some say Draco, an Athenian Legislator, instituted even harsher penalties.

  1. some say Draco, an Athenian legislator, instituted
  2. some would say that Draco, the Athenian legislator, had instituted
  3. Draco, who had been an Athenian legislator, had instituted
  4. the Athenian legislator Draco, instituted, according to some,
  5. the Athenian Legislator Draco, to some, had instituted

Then watch the video below to see how to solve it:

If you have any questions or are still reeling from that doozy of a problem, leave me a comment below! 🙂

About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog!

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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