Today’s blog focuses on a great time-saving secret in the ACT English and SAT Writing section: misplaced modifiers in introductory clauses. Once you learn how to spot these frequent errors, you can quickly pinpoint the correct answer choice.
Let’s get started. Can you spot the error in the following sentence?
Weighing in at two and a half tons, Grandma drove the heavy 1974 Buick station wagon for over thirty-five years.
Most readers will understand that the car weighs two and a half tons, but on the ACT and SAT, you have to read things literally. According to this sentence, Grandma weighs 5,000 pounds! Since we know this is impossible (after all, the world’s heaviest person was only 1,400 pounds), we can ascertain that this sentence is seriously flawed.
This happens because the noun that occurs right after the introductory adjective phrase is the wrong noun being modified:
You should learn to spot introductory adjective phrases and immediately check that the noun or pronoun referenced is indeed the noun closest to that phrase. Look at some more errors with introductory modifying phrases:
Preparing for her vacation, the suitcase was carefully packed by Nancy.
A teacher of the arts for over thirty years, a retirement party honored Stanley Hobson at the luxurious hotel.
When the introductory adjective phrase is not underlined, you can almost always fix this common error without reading all of the answer choices. Simply find the answer that places the correct noun or pronoun at the front of the independent clause.
For example, check out Section 1 of Practice Test 3 in The Official ACT Prep Guide. Look at Question 27: a savvy test taker can pick Choice (B) without reading any of the answer choices simply because it’s the only answer to put “Madam C.J. Walker” at the beginning of the clause. Since Madam Walker was the person who established her own hair products business, this is the only possible answer.
Similarly, look at Question 43 on Section 2, Test 4 of either The Official SAT Study Guide or the free SAT test online. We can quickly see that choice (A) is correct because the thing that is “demanding and deadline driven” is “video game design.” Only choice (A) puts the noun in the correct place. Choice (B) places “the choice” at the beginning of the clause, choice (C) uses “you” and choice (D) has “choosing.” None of these words or phrases are described by the modifying phrase in the introductory clause.
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