GMAT Sentence Correction Made Simple — Dangling Modifiers

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GMAT Sentence Correction Made Simple — Dangling Modifiers

Contrary to what you may think, mastering Sentence Correction questions does not require memorizing every rule and term of English grammar.  While you certainly need to know some essential grammar rules and be able to identify basic parts of speech, the crux of Sentence Correction is the ability to identify faults in logic.

Grammar is nothing more than the logic of sentences, the necessary rules that ensure words in a sentence are strung together in such a way that they make sense and convey meaning.  Proper grammar and style — at least in the case of the GMAT — support clarity.  When used incorrectly, grammar and style can obscure the meaning of a sentence or make it illogical.  Dangling modifier errors perhaps best show how sentences exist as logical structures, and once you know what to look for, they’re simple to correct.

What’s a modifier and how does it dangle in sentence correction questions?

A modifier is simply a word or phrase that modifies, i.e. adds additional information to, a subject.  Modifiers can be as short as a single adjective or multiple words long, but the key trait to remember is that a modifier is separate from the subject and verb of a sentence.  They’re an optional word or phrase added on to a sentence; they’re non-essential.  Modifiers are used constantly as they make sentences more interesting and nuanced by providing additional detail.  Here’s an example:

Littered with puddles, the soccer field was too wet to use for tonight’s game.

In the above sentence, “littered with puddles” is a phrase that modifies the subject of the independent clause.  This modifying phrase also appears close to the subject it modifies: The subject “the soccer field” directly follows the modifier “littered with puddles.”  This positioning is paramount to the correct use of a modifier as ambiguity arises about what the modifier is modifying when it is distanced from its subject in a sentence.  The fundamental rule of modifiers is that they should appear next to the subject they modify otherwise they may make the sentence illogical.  Let’s look at another example.

Littered with puddles, officials canceled tonight’s game because the field was too wet.

In this second example, the modifier is intended for “the field,” but it is placed next to “officials.”  Therefore, this sentence literally states that the officials are littered with puddles.

Dangling modifiers in GMAT questions

Here’s an example of what you may see on the GMAT:

Although closed for renovation, architecture students with a college pass can gain entry to the historic monument. 

A) Although closed for renovation

B) Although it is closed for renovation

C) Closed for renovation

D) Closed on account of renovation

E) Having closed for renovation

It’s easy to overlook this error as the modifying phrase “although closed for renovation” is clearly intended to refer to the monument, but correct grammar is not about intentions; it’s about logical structure.  Since the modifying phrase is placed next to “architecture students,” it is these students who are closed for renovation and not the historic monument, at least according to the structure of the sentence.

Only one of the answer choices fixes the illogical structure of the sentence, and it’s important to note how it does this.  Answers A, C, D and E merely change the wording of the phrase while keeping the faulty structure intact.  Answer B, on the other hand, remedies this problem by turning the modifying phrase into an introductory clause.  How does it do this? It simply inserts the subject of the modifier into the phrase, “it,” which creates a dependent clause.

If a GMAT question has a dangling modifier but the modifier is not in the underlined section of the sentence, then the underlined portion needs to be rearranged so that the subject is clearly linked with its modifying word or phrase.  For example, take the same example but with the independent clause of the sentence underlined rather than the modifying phrase at the beginning.

Although closed for renovation, architecture students with a college pass can gain entry to the historic monument. 

In this case, “historic monument” would need to be shifted to the beginning of the clause so that it is clearly modified by “although closed for renovation.”  The correct answer may look something like this:

the historic monument may be entered by architecture students with a college pass.

Key points

When completing Sentence Correction problems, always look out for modifiers.  Remember that modifiers are a word or phrase that add non-essential information to a sentence.  If something seems off, check to see what the modifier is next to and if this organization makes logical sense.

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