GMAT SC – Modifiers

In grammar, a modifier (or qualifier) is a word or sentence element that limits or qualifies another word, a phrase. or a clause. In English, there are two kinds of modifiers: adjective, which modify nouns and pronouns, and adverbs, which modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. A modifier phrase is a phrase that acts as a modifier; English has adjective phrases and adverb phrases. Neither modifiers nor modifier phrases are usually required by a clause’s syntax; they are optional, and help clarify or limit the extent of the meaning of the word or phrase they modify. The construction of an appropriate sentence requires correct placement of every word. 

Adjectives distinctly play two roles: noun (and pronoun) modifiers and predicate adjectives.

As noun modifiers, adjectives always precede the nouns they modify and can be subdivided into two main classes: determiners and descriptive adjectives

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Descriptive adjectives are the traditional modifiers we see immediately preceding the nouns. They describe or modify the noun to provide more information about it (e.g. old house, where “old” is the descriptive adjective). Most, but not all, descriptive adjectives have comparative and superlative forms. Determiners, on the other hand, are the modifiers that express the contextual reference of that noun or noun phrase. 

Some adjectives are followed by certain specific prepositions:

Examples of adjectives Preposition
Angry, annoyed, anxious, certain, excited, happy, pleased, right, sorry, upset, nervous. About
Amazed, bad, excellent, good, hopeless, lucky, surprised, useless At
Amused, bored, impressed, shocked, surprised. By
Famous, late, ready, sorry, responsible, suitable. For
Absent, different, safe, tired. From
Interested, involved In
Keen On
Afraid, ashamed, capable, aware, certain, confident, critical, envious, fond, full, guilty, incapable, jealous, kind, nice, proud, scared, short, stupid, sure, suspicious, terrified, tired, typical. Of
Accustomed, engaged, kind, generous, inferior, married, polite, possible, rude, superior, similar. To
Friendly, patronizing Towards
Angry, annoyed, bored, busy, content, crowded, delighted, disappointed, familiar, friendly, furious, happy, occupied, pleased, satisfied. With

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Of the three, its most common function is modifying verbs. However, adverbs CANNOT modify a linking verb; they can only modify action verbs. In the case of the linking verbs, an adjective is used to describe/modify it, and usually follows rather than precedes it. E.g. Being good, Appeared intelligent, Remains faithful)

Adverbs that modify verbs have several characteristics that make them quite easy to identify: they answer adverb questions directed at the verb in the sentence (when, where, how, why, how often) 

Examples: When did they move the car? Yesterday (Yesterday is an adverb that modifies the verb), Where did they move the car? There (There is an adverb that modifies the verb), How did they move the car? Carefully (an adverb that modifies the verb), How often do they use the car? Frequently (again, modifies the verb).

Adverbs that modify verbs are also movable, unlike the adjectives that modify linking verbs (they can only be placed after the verb). In contrast, adverbs that modify adjectives are immobile: they cannot be moved away from the adjective they modify.

Example for adverbs that modify verbs: They moved the car yesterday

                                                                    Yesterday they moved the car

Example for adverbs that modify adjectives: A completely false statement

                                                                           A false statement completely

Adverbs that modify other adverbs are easy to recognize. They are locked into place immediately in front of the adverbs they modify. They are often called intensifiers: they emphasize the meaning of the adverb they modify.

Example: I always take my homework very seriously.

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Recognizing Misplaced Modifiers

When a writer’s aim is off and too much distance separates the modifier from its target, the result is a misplaced modifier.

Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, envious looks were shot Roland’s way as the other picnickers quenched their own thirst.

Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, a participle phrase, should describe picnickers, but since that noun is so far away, the phrase seems to be modifying envious looks, which don’t have mouths that can suck water!

Recognizing Dangling Modifiers

If the sentence fails to include a target, the modifier is dangling.

With a sigh of pleasure, consumption of cucumber sandwiches commenced.

We assume that Roland is the one sighing with pleasure and eating cucumber sandwiches, but notice that he’s not in the sentence, so we can’t tell for sure!

Know the solution.

Misplaced and dangling modifiers make sentences awkward and inelegant. They keep sentences from expressing clear, straightforward ideas. When you discover a misplaced or dangling modifier in a sentence, you will need to rearrange and/or revise the sentence parts to untangle the idea the sentence wants to express.

Fixing Misplaced Modifiers

Rearranging sentence parts will often fix a misplaced modifier. Remember that most modifiers come as close to their targets as possible:

Here is the original error:

Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, envious looks were shot Roland’s way as the other picnickers quenched their own thirst.

If we move things around, the modifier hits the right target:

Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, the other picnickers quenched their own thirst as they shot envious looks Roland’s way.

Now we have picnickers drinking from the rubber hose, which is clear and logical!

Fixing Dangling Modifiers

To fix a dangling modifier, you will need to add a target to the sentence and then tweak the remaining words to make sense.

Here is the original error without a logical target:

With a sigh of pleasure, consumption of cucumber sandwiches commenced.

Notice that the addition of a target makes the sentence clear:

With a sigh of pleasure, Roland began to consume cucumber sandwiches.

After Roland sighed with pleasure, he began to consume cucumber sandwiches.

Now we know who got to eat that delicious snack!

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