GMAT Sentence Correction Modifiers: Types & Rules

GMAT SC ModifiersModifiers are words or phrases that modify the subject. Common GMAT Sentence correction modifiers are phrases. You rarely see a word modifying the subject, unless it is the use of “only”, “almost”, and other adverbs.

1) Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers are easy to spot, and test takers should master this concept before learning the nuances of GMAT Sentence correction.

Shortcut: Distance between Modifier and Subject & Distance of Subject after Comma

The easiest misplaced modifiers to spot are the ones where the distance between the subject and the modifier is suspiciously wide. The biggest giveaways for such sentences are the elements that come after the coma.

For Example: Climbing up the hills surrounding Avalanche Lake, flowers greeted us with their serene beauty.

The sentence sounds poetic, but there is a glaring error in the sentence.

Modifier: “Climbing up the hills”


Distance: 5 words

Distance of Subject after Comma: 2 Words

Elements coming after coma (,): Flowers (Object)

The modifier is not modifying the subject, but the object; this is wrong.

Shortcut: When the distance of the Subject after the comma is more than 1 word, you know that the sentence has an error.

Correct Sentence: Climbing up the hills surrounding Avalanche Lake, we were greeted by flowers with their serene beauty.

The sentence is less poetic, but it is correct from a GMAT Sentence Correction context.

2) Dangling Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers is a sentence construct that assumes that you are aware about the subject, and therefore, miss mentioning the subject altogether. Misplaced Modifier can become a subset of a Dangling Modifier.

Replaced Object Example: Climbing up the hills surrounding Avalanche Lake, flowers greeted with its serene beauty.

The author is assuming that the reader is aware about the subject (us), but the sentence is awkward and gives the impression that the flowers are the subject.

Missing Subject Example: Negotiating the hairpin bends, a family of Nilgiri langurs welcomed our arrival.

In the above example, the author again assumes that the subject (author) is known and adds the object immediately following the comma.

The subject that negotiated the hairpin bends is the author

Correct Example: Negotiating the hairpin bends, we were welcomed by a family of Nilgiri langurs.

3) Squinting Modifiers

Squinting modifiers are the toughest to spot. Here, the modifier can modify more than one thing, and the reader is confused as to which one to choose.

Most common errors are the result of the words “only”, “except”, “almost” and other adverbs.

Example: I am only watching positive news these days

The above example confuses the reader as to whether the author is watching positive news and nothing else, or while watching the news, the author watches only positive news. Since squinting modifiers are common, we have developed immunity towards such error. We hardly spot them in GMAT SC answer choices.

Correct Example:
I am watching only positive news these days

Shortcut: Note down words before and after modifiers like “only”.

“only”, “except”, “almost” and other adverbs should not come between two phrases or between two discrete words that can both be described by the modifier.

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