“Smiling, The Post Was Read With Great Interest.” How to Recognize Dangling Modifiers in SC Questions

by on November 2nd, 2012

Has anything strange drawn your attention to the title of today’s article? It is indeed a grammatically incorrect sentence. If you want to learn a little more about the type of a mistake it includes, don’t hesitate and read on!

Let’s start from analyzing the following sentence:

“Having learned for six months, the result of the exam was more than satisfying.”

What is your opinion? Is this sentence correct? If you think it is flawed – you are absolutely right! The phrase “having learned for six months” is placed directly before the phrase “the result of the exam.” Such a position of the first phrase suggests quite incorrectly it was the exam that was learning. Well… The idea of an inanimate and abstract thing like an exam to be learning seems totally ridiculous and illogical. Still, the identification of similar flaws in Sentence Correction question is often quite a challenge to test-takers and the problem is two-fold. Firstly, test-takers are not able to decide which noun (or phrase) the modifier actually refers to. Secondly, it is frequently hard to link the modifier to the  noun it SHOULD be describing. Today’s post will explain how to correctly identify the link between a modifier and the noun it describes so that in the future you will avoid falling into similar traps set by test-makers.

Firstly, we need to explain what a modifier is. It is usually a phrase of two or more words that describe a noun or a noun phrase. Modifiers often include verb + ing (e.g. using, wearing) or V3 (e.g. mistaken, forgotten).

e.g. Bursting with fascination, the professor read the old book. – correct

Bursting with fascination, the old book was read by the professor. – incorrect

The first example is correct, as the phrase “bursting with fascination” is correctly placed before the noun it describes (i.e. “the professor). We can check this by asking a simple question: “WHO was bursting with fascination?” According to the sentence structure the answer is “The professor.” Since the answer makes sense, we can be sure the sentence is phrased correctly.

The second sentence, however, is structured differently because the subject of the sentence is “the book” and not “the professor.” Let’s do our Question Test. We should ask the same question: “WHO was bursting with fascination?” However, this time the answer is different. The noun placed closest to the modifier is THE BOOK. Thus this sentence states incorrectly that the THE BOOK WAS BURSTING WITH FASCINATION.

The mistake that you can see in the second sentence is quite common in Sentence Correction questions and known as a dangling modifier. The modifier can come before the noun it describes or after it, but in any case should be right next to the noun it refers to, with nothing else between them. If you encounter a sentence where the modifier is not placed right next to the noun it describes, it means that the modifier is misplaced, that is, in the wrong place. This is a dangling modifier mistake.

Now, let’s try to see how to identify this type of a flaw in a Sentence Correction question. The question I have selected for today’s post comes from the Official Guide the 13th ed.:

Many of the earliest known images of Hindu deities in India date from the time of the Kushan Empire, fashioned either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or Gandharan grey schist.

A. Empire, fashioned either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or
B. Empire, fashioned from either the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from
C. Empire, either fashioned from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or
D. Empire and either fashioned from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from
E. Empire and were fashioned either from the spotted sandstone of Mathura or from

Firstly, we need to read the original sentence and look for 0-2 grammatical or stylistic mistakes. We immediately notice that answer A incorrectly places the modifier “fashioned ….” after “the time of the Kushan Empire”, when it should really be modifying the phrase “the earliest known images of Hindu deities.” Thus this answer includes the so-called Dangling Modifier that we have already talked about. The second mistake concerns the part after a comma “fashioned EITHER FROM the spotted sandstone of Mathura OR … Gandharan.” The structure “either… or...” should be parallel. However, it is not because the preposition “from” is missing in the second part of the structure. It is incorrect to say: “either FROM the spotted sandstone of Mathura or ….(?) Ghandaran grey schist.” Therefore, we see that the structure to be parallel needs to include the preposition FROM in both its parts.

Now, we should check whether the original mistakes are repeated in any of the remaining answers. We can eliminate answers B and C because they also include the misplaced modifier “fashioned…” In both answers it refers to the “Kushan Empire” and not to “the earliest known images…” Thus both answers repeat the original mistake.

Now we should compare answers D and E, checking which of them is a better option. Answer D is incorrect. There is the conjunction “and” placed after the first clause. Therefore, the second part of the sentence should also be a clause. However, the second part of the sentence does not contain a conjugated verb. We cannot conjoin a clause and a phrase together. Thus answer D violates the parallelism rule and should be eliminated.

We are left with answer E, which is the best choice. It is similar to answer D because it divides the sentence into two parts but it does not contain a parallelism mistake. The second part of the structure is a clause and thus is parallel to the first part. Also the dangling modifier mistake is corrected.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Always pay attention to the little red flags that can help you identify a dangling modifier: Verb+ing or a verb in 3rd form separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma and quite often placed on the initial position in a sentence.
  2. Check whether the modifier is placed next to the noun it describes. If it is not, you have found your mistake.
  3. Misplaced modifiers usually incorrectly change the meaning of a sentence. Check whether the sentence is not ambiguous or illogical due to the wrong placement of the modifier.

And a little something for you to enjoy. I will provide the answer in the coming days:

Anchoring the organelles in place, the tasks that are performed by the cytoskeleton within a cell’s structure are crucial, and composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and microtubules, it maintains cell polarity.

A. the tasks that are performed by the cytoskeleton within a cell’s structure are crucial and, composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and
B. the cytoskeleton performs crucial tasks in a cell’s structure and, composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and containing
C. the cytoskeleton performs crucial tasks within the structure of a cell and, composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and
D. the tasks being performed within a cell’s structure by the cytoskeleton are crucial and, composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and
E. the cytoskeleton performs crucial tasks within a cell’s structure and it is composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and

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