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ACT English Practice: Misplaced Modifiers

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  • 0:02 Modifier Trouble
  • 1:09 Question 1
  • 2:16 Question 2
  • 3:21 Question 3
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Not knowing how to use modifiers properly, this lesson will help you figure it all out - including what's wrong with this sentence! Walk through three examples with explanations, and then try it yourself on the quiz.

Modifier Trouble

Misplaced modifiers can be tricky to spot because they typically don't make the sentence hard to understand. If someone talking to you misplaces a modifier, you'll still know what they mean. But even so, the ACT tests your ability to spot them and fix them, so it's good to know how they work. Here's a quick review before we get into the practice questions:

A modifier is anything that describes another word. Adjectives can be modifiers, but a modifier doesn't have to be just one word. Sometimes, it's a group of words. The cardinal rule is that a modifier has to be right next to the word it modifies.

A misplaced modifier is a modifier that modifies the wrong thing if you take it literally. In general, a modifier goes with whatever it's closest to, so you need to make sure the closest noun is actually what you're trying to modify. For example, this makes no sense, unless you meant to say that the snack was exhausted by the hike.

Got it? Now let's try some practice questions.

Question 1

Eager to prey on pests like mosquitoes and wasps, Edith is glad to see dragonflies flying around.

(A) As it is now.
(B) Edith gladly sees dragonflies flying around.
(C) dragonflies are a welcome sight for Edith.
(D) and Edith gladly welcomes dragonflies to fly around.

Before you try to pick an answer, identify where the modifier is in this sentence. Can you spot it?

Now, let's take a look at what that modifier is modifying. Whoa! Wait a minute! Edith is presumably a person, but how many people do you know who prey on mosquitoes and wasps? Let's go out on a limb here and assume that's not actually what the sentence means. What this sentence is trying to say is that dragonflies eat mosquitoes and wasps. So how could we change the sentence to actually say that?

Did you pick (C)? In choice (C), you've put the correct noun right next to the modifier, so it's the dragonflies who eat bugs, not poor Edith.

Question 2

Hungry for a big plate of spuds, my portion of mashed potatoes looked disappointingly small.

(A) (as it is now)
(B) I was hungry for a big plate of spuds,
(C) With a big appetite for spuds,
(D) Because I was hungry for a big plate of spuds,

Can you catch the problem here? 'Hungry for a big plate of spuds' is a modifier, but what's it modifying? So, your mashed potatoes were hungry for potatoes? Oh no, potato cannibalism! That's probably not what the writer meant to say, though, so how could you fix this to make it clear who's hungry for the potatoes?

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