The Fast Way to Solve GMAT Modifier Questions

by on August 12th, 2015

gmat-modifiersBefore I started to prepare for the Sentence Correction section of the GMAT, I hadn’t heard of a modifier, let alone a dangling modifier! What is all this about?

Consider the following example:

Looking out the window, the trees were seen by her.

1. Subject after comma

Look at the part of the sentence before the comma. This is the modifier. It modifies or changes the rest of the sentence in some way.

  • What is the verb in the modifier? The verb is “looking out.”
  • What is the subject of the verb? You may notice that in the modifier there is no subject for this verb. This makes the modifier a dangling modifier. It is not connected to the rest of the sentence properly. The rule is that the correct subject of the verb must come immediately after the comma.
  • To determine what the subject is, you can ask yourself the question: Who or what performed the action? The answer to that question gives you the subject. The answer is that “she” did the looking. It cannot be the trees looking out the window. Therefore, “she” must come directly after the comma.

The correctly written sentence would become:

Looking out the window, she saw the trees.

This question may seem relatively simple. Often sentences involving dangling modifiers can be relatively long, perhaps up to four lines long. If you just concentrate on the word directly after the comma, you will save time.

2. Recognizing dangling modifier questions.

  • You may say that that is all very well, but how do I recognize a dangling modifier question? The standard order of words in an English sentence is subject-verb-object. For example, “I drink tea”. When the test makers move away from this standard order, it is time to be careful. Whenever you see an “ing” form of a verb at the start of a sentence, you can recognize that you are being tested on the dangling modifier concept. The test makers may also disguise the modifier by starting the question with “After looking out … ,” or “Before looking out … ” However, it’s still a dangling modifier issue.
  • Dangling modifier questions can also start with the past participle of the verb. For example, “Spoken in many countries, English has become the global language.” The modifier is the part of the sentence that comes before the comma. It contains a verb “spoken”, but does not tell us what is spoken. The answer to the question of what is spoken must come directly after the comma.

3. Active vs. Passive

A final point in relation to our first example of the trees: As someone with some knowledge of sentence correction, you may say you don’t like the sentence, as it contains a passive construction. Very good! If everything else is equal and you have a choice of passive or active, choose the active.

If you can save time on such questions, you will have more time for those tricky Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning problems!

This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.

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