offers hundreds of practice questions and video explanations. Go there now.

Sign up or log in to Magoosh GMAT Prep.

Modifiers on the GMAT Sentence Correction

First a few GMAT Sentence Correction practice questions involving modifiers

1) Between 1892 and 1893, Claude Monet produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, revised in his studio in 1894, and with the French public receiving it as an emblem of all that was noble about their history and customs.

(A) produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, revised in his studio in 1894, and with the French public receiving it

(B) produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, which he revised in his studio in 1894 and which the French public received

(C) produced a series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, which he revised in his studio in 1894, and that the French public received it

(D) painted the Rouen Cathedral, which he revised in his studio in 1894, and that the French public received it

(E) painted the Rouen Cathedral, revised in his studio in 1894, and the French public received it

 

2) A highly educated member of a wealthy and aristocratic Boston family, Percival Lowell was interested in astronomy due to his belief in canals on Mars, which modern astronomers dismiss as material for pop science fiction.

(A) Percival Lowell was interested in astronomy due to his belief in canals on Mars, which modern astronomers dismiss

(B) Percival Lowell’s interest in astronomy was due to his belief in canals on Mars, but with modern astronomers dismissing it

(C) Percival Lowell’s interest in astronomy, due to believing in canals on Mars, a view that modern astronomers dismiss

(D) Percival Lowell was interested in astronomy because he believed in canals on Mars, a view that modern astronomers dismiss

(E) Percival Lowell was interested in astronomy due to his belief in canals on Mars, with modern astronomers dismissing it

 

3) Studies show that teachers unconsciously assume that students who regularly perform poorly on assessments have below-average abilities, and in neglecting to provide the academic challenges that would catalyze their intellectual potential, the students often accept this damaging diagnosis and the life limits it implies.

(A) in neglecting to provide the academic challenges that would catalyze their intellectual potential

(B) when they neglect providing the academic challenges that would be catalyzing their intellectual potential

(C) when teachers neglect to provide the academic challenges that would catalyze their students’ intellectual potential

(D) in neglecting in providing the academic challenges that would catalyze their students’ intellectual potential

(E) in being neglectful with respect to providing the academic challenges that would be catalyzing their intellectual potential

 

4) Inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798, the authors of the Lyrical Ballads were Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate.

(A) Inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798, the authors of the Lyrical Ballads were Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate

(B) Inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate, wrote the Lyrical Ballads

(C) Inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798, the Lyrical Ballads was written by William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

(D) The Lyrical Ballads, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate, and inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798

(E) The authors being Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate, the Lyrical Ballads inaugurated the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798

 

Modifier basics

First of all, let’s distinguish between noun modifiers and verb modifiers.  Adjectives modify nouns, and longer phrases or clauses that modify nouns are sometimes called adjectival phrases or clauses.  Adverbs modify verbs, and longer phrases or clauses that modify verbs are sometimes called adverbial phrases or clauses.

Most modifier questions, and common modifier mistakes on the GMAT, involve noun modifiers.  Verb modifiers simply have looser rules — there is quite a bit of freedom in where a verb modifier could be placed in a sentence.   Most of what I say below will apply only to noun modifiers.

 

The Modifier Touch Rule

This is a biggie, one of the most important grammar rules for GMAT Sentence Correction.  The Touch Rule says: a noun modifier should be adjacent to (i.e. “touch”) the noun it modifiers.  A blatant violation of this rule is known as a misplaced modifier, which I consider among the funniest of all grammatical mistakes.

motgsc_img1

Oakland, CA, is an awfully cool place, but it’s not a “who” and it doesn’t have a large vocabulary: that modifier should modify the subject, Chris.  Criminals typically don’t contribute to the solving of their own crimes: that modifier should modify the subject, “the detective.”  Old folks are sometimes strange, but the long modifier should modify “the pair of cats.”  These are all misplaced modifiers, all delightfully illogical, and all in violation of the Modifier Touch Rule.  All would be 100% wrong on the GMAT Sentence Correction.  Did you find the misplaced modifiers in the practice problem sentences at the top?

 

Exceptions to the Modifier Touch Rule

As with almost anything in grammar, the Modifier Touch Rule is not a mathematically precise rule, and admits of exceptions.  The BIG exception involves the distinction of vital vs. non-vital noun modifiers.  A vital noun modifier always has logical priority over a non-vital noun modifier, and therefore could prevent a non-vital modifier from “touching” the noun by coming between the non-vital modifier and the noun.

4) In the last decades of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov produced a massive book on orchestration, which is still read by composition students today.

The modifier “which is still …” doesn’t modify the noun “orchestration” (which is something that can’t be “read”) — instead, it modifies “book”,  and it’s fine that it doesn’t touch “book”, because the modifier “on orchestration” is a vital noun modifier — that is, it narrows down and identifies the indefinite noun “book.”

Other examples of exceptions to the Touch Rule involve a short set of words, such as an example phrase or a short intransitive verb phrase, that are correctly placed between a noun and its modifier.

5) The most expensive component of any catalytic convertor is the small quantity of precious metal, such as platinum or rhodium, which acts as the catalyst

6) Last week, the senator resigned who made the disparaging remark about older women.

In #5, the modifier “which acts as the catalyst” modifies “precious metal,” even though the short example phrase comes between.  In #6, the modifier “who made …” modifies “the senator,” even though a short verb intervenes.

 

Modifiers and Possessives

This is another classic trap pattern on the GMAT Sentence Correction. Suppose we have the format:

[modifier] [A’s][B]

where A & B are nouns.  A possessive itself acts as a modifier, so really the only true noun here is B, and the possessive of A is modifying it.  Therefore the modifier at the beginning must apply to B.  That’s what must be true, but a common GMAT Sentence Correction mistake is to have the first modifier refer to A. Most often, this occurs at the beginning of the sentence.  Examples:

motgsc_img2

All three of those would be 100% wrong on the GMAT.  In all three cases, the modifier at the beginning of the sentence is intended to modify the noun in the possessive, not the true noun that follows.  All three are illogical.  In all three cases, we would have to reword:

7b) One of America’s greatest military minds, General MacArthur decided to

8b) Alaska has a population under 800,000, mostly in the southern cities, and its northern third is ….

9b) Much shorter than Mount Whitney, Mount Diablo has a viewshed that includes

Did you find this mistake in the practice problem sentences at the top?

 

Modifying a clause

Consider this sentence, which would be incorrect on the GMAT:

motgsc_img3

The word “which” is a relative pronoun (others include “who/whose/whom”, “that”, “when”, “where”), and, like any pronoun, must have a clear antecedent.   For example, in this sentence, the clear antecedent of “it” and “its” is “gold.”  What is the antecedent of “which”?

The antecedent of “which,” the “thing” that enables gold to remain lustrous, is the action described in the main clause.   A pronoun cannot have a clause as an antecedent, so a relative clause (i.e. a subordinate clause starting with a relative pronoun) cannot modify a clause.  Did you notice this kind of mistake in the practice questions at the top? How can we correct this problem?

One strategy would be to create a word.  Choose a new word, a noun,  that encapsulates the action in the clause, and then modify this noun with a relative clause.  Here, the clause is “gold resists the corrosive action of air and water” — if we are going to encapsulate this property as a noun, perhaps we would use the noun “low reactivity”.   Then the sentence  becomes

10b) Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, a low reactivity that enables it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time.

That sentence, a little wordy, still would be correct on the GMAT.

Another strategy, in some contexts, might be to use a participial phrase.  Unlike relative clauses, which can modify only nouns, participial phrases are much more flexible.  A participle or participial phrase can modify a noun, or a verb, or an entire clause. In this case, the sentence would be:

10c) Unlike most other elemental metals, gold resists the corrosive action of air and water, enabling it to maintain its characteristic luster unabated over time.

Here, the action of the participle, “enabling,” refers to “gold resists.”

Summary

If you had an “Aha!” moment while reading this, you may want to go back to the sentences at the top and reconsider your answer. If you have further questions about modifiers, or any thoughts you would like to share, please let us know in the comments section following the solutions below.

 

Practice Problem Solutions

1) Split #1: Look at the modifier “revised in his studio” or “which he revised in his studio” — both of those are correct in and of themselves.  But what do they modify?  Clearly, the “series of paintings” could be revised in Monet’s studio, but the cathedral itself couldn’t fit inside someone’s studio.  (D) & (E) are incorrect.

Split #2: Pronoun problem.  In (C) & (D), the pronoun “that” refers to the series of paintings, so the appearance of the second pronoun “it” for the same thing is incorrect.

Split #3: Choice (A) has the structure “with” + [noun] + [participial phrase].  The GMAT does not like this construction.  If you want to describe a full action, use a full [noun]+[verb] clause.  Because of this, (A) is wrong.

This leaves (B) as the only possible answer.

 

2) Split #1: diction.  The word “due” is an adjective, so it must either modify a noun directly, or appear after a form of “to be” in the predicate.  It would be correct to write either:

Percival Lowell’s interest in astronomy was due to his belief in canals on Mars

which (B) has, or

Percival Lowell was interested in astronomy because he believed in canals on Mar

which (D) has.   Both of these statements are correct.  By contrast, the following is a diction mistake:

Percival Lowell was interested in astronomy due to his belief in canals on Mars

This implies that the astronomy was “due to his beliefs,” which is not the intended meaning.   (A) & (C) & (E) all make this mistake.

Split #2: (B) & (E) have the structure “with” + [noun] + [participial phrase].  The GMAT has objections to this construction in certain cases (see the linked blog).  If you want to describe a full action, use a full [noun]+[verb] clause.  These two are incorrect because of this.

Split #3: the modifier.  In answer (A), what is the proper antecedent of the pronoun “which”?  Naively, it would seem to modify “Mars” which makes no sense — modern astronomers don’t dismiss the fourth planet!  If we make the argument that both prepositional phrases, “in canals” and “on Mars” , are vital noun modifiers, then we could argue that the antecedent is “belief” — that makes more sense.   Would everyone agree both of those prepositions are vital noun modifiers?  That’s unclear.  This makes (A) questionable.  By contrast, choices (C) & (D) eliminate all ambiguity by inserting a noun word — in (D), this allows us to modify correctly the clause “because he believed in canals on Mars“.

Split #4: notice that version (C) has no main verb — it commits the missing verb mistake.

For all this reasons, (D) is the best answer from among these five.

 

3) Split #1: modifier problem.  The sentence begins with an independent clause, then a comma and the word “and”, introducing a second independent clause, the main clause of which follows the underlined part.  If the underlined part begins with participial phrase, this must modify “the students”, the subject of the second independent clause.  This is problematic, because the students don’t “neglect to provide the academic challenges” — that’s a teacher’s job, not a student’s job!  Choices (A) & (D) & (E) all have a participial phrase that illogically modifies “the students”, so these are incorrect.

Split #2: choice (B) makes the classic repeated pronouns mistake.  “… when they[the teachers] neglect providing the academic challenges that would be catalyzing their [the students’] intellectual potential …”  The pronoun “they”/”their” refers to two different antecedents in the same sentence!  That’s 100% illegal on the GMAT.  (B) is incorrect.

This leaves (C) as the only possible answer.

 

4) A SC problem with the whole sentence underlined!  These are challenging ones.  Let’s look at (A) first.

(A) Inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798, the authors of the Lyrical Ballads were Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, who would later be named Britain’s Poet Laureate

The modifier “inaugurating the Romantic movement with its publication in 1798” must applied to the Lyrical Ballads, not to the two authors, as (A) & (B) suggest.  Those two are wrong.

Choice (C) correctly has this modifier modifying “the Lyrical Ballads”, and everything else is clear and grammatically correct.  This is a promising choice.

Choice (D) makes the missing verb mistake — there is no main verb in that version.  (D) is wrong.

In (E), the second half is clear and direct, but the first half compresses the information into an awkward absolute phrase using the participle “being” — that’s almost always wrong on the GMAT Sentence Correction.  Here, the effect is clumsy and indirect.  Choice (E) is far from ideal.

By far, the strongest answer is (C).

 

Ready to get an awesome GMAT score? Start here.

Most Popular Resources