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Test PrepSATWritingModifiers

SAT Writing Skill Review: Modifiers

A modifier is a word that describes another word. Modifiers come in three degrees of comparison:

  • Positive (tall, carefully): Use when you’re just describing something. (Joe is tall.)
  • Comparative (taller, more carefully): Use when you’re comparing two things. (Joe is taller than John.)
  • Superlative (tallest, most carefully): Use when you’re comparing three or more things. (Joe is the tallest person in his class.)

Here are some general rules for modifiers:

Rule: Avoid using an adjective to modify a verb.

Correct Usage: He ran quickly.
Incorrect Usage: He ran quick.

Rule: When you’re comparing something with a group it belongs to, you must include the word other or the word else.

Correct Usage:This class is more fun than any other class.
Incorrect Usage: This class is more fun than any class.

Correct Usage: Mrs. Miller is nicer than anyone else I know.
Incorrect Usage: Mrs. Miller is nicer than anyone I know.

Rule: Use the words less, amount and much when referring to collective nouns (uncountable things).

Correct Usage: There is less ice cream in my bowl than in my sister’s bowl.
Incorrect Usage: There is fewer ice cream in my bowl than in my sister's bowl.

Correct Usage: The amount of traffic on Fridays is much higher than on Thursdays.
Incorrect Usage: The number of traffic on Fridays is much higher than on Thursdays.

Correct Usage: There is much more rain today than there was yesterday.
Incorrect Usage: There is many more rain today than there was yesterday.

Rule: Use the words fewer, number and many when referring to nouns you can count.

Correct Usage: There are fewer scoops of ice cream in my bowl than in my sister’s bowl.
Incorrect Usage: There are less scoops of ice cream in my bowl than in my sister's bowl.

Correct Usage: The number of cars on the road on Fridays is much higher than on Thursdays.
Incorrect Usage: The amount of cars on the road on Fridays is much higher than on Thursdays.

Correct Usage: There are many more raindrops falling now than there were an hour ago.
Incorrect Usage: There are much more raindrops falling now than there were an hour ago.

Rule: For clarity, always put modifiers as close to the words they modify as possible. (Dangling modifiers refer to words not directly stated in the sentence; misplaced modifiers are in the wrong place in the sentence.)

Correct Usage: Falling through the sky, the skydiver was amazed at how far he could see.
Incorrect Usage: Falling through the sky, the view was amazing. (dangling modifier)
Incorrect Usage: Falling through the sky, the view seen by the skydiver was amazing. (misplaced modifier)

When you come across a modifier in an Error ID or Improve the Sentence question, ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. What is it modifying (describing)?
  2. Is it clear (is it next to the thing it’s describing)?

If it’s not clear, chances are there’s a problem.
 

Examples

Try these practice questions:

2. The sirens cause passing sailors to go completely insane by singing beautiful songs.

(A)  The sirens cause passing sailors to go completely insane by singing beautiful
      songs.
(B)  Singing beautiful songs, the sirens cause passing sailors to go completely
      insane.
(C)  The sirens, which are always singing beautiful songs, cause sailors to go
      completely insane.
(D)  Whenever they are singing beautiful songs, the sirens cause sailors to go
      completely insane.
(E)  The sirens, who cause passing sailors to go completely insane, are always
      singing beautiful songs.

Answers and Explanations

  1. The correct answer is D. Since you can count conduct problems, you must use fewer instead of less. Don’t be tricked into choosing A. Although some high school teachers claim that you should never use first person pronouns, such as I, or second person pronouns, such as you, in your writing, that’s not true at all. Although there are situations in which you should avoid first and second person pronouns, there are plenty of times when they’re completely appropriate. 
     
  2. The correct answer is B. Singing beautiful songs modifies the sirens, not the sailors. Choice A suggests that the sailors go insane by singing beautiful songs themselves. Choices C, D, and E are wordy and awkward and change the meaning of the sentence.

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