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Intro to Modifiers


Now that we've talked about individual adjectives and adverbs, we can talk about modifiers. And of course, modifiers is a gigantic topic on the GMAT sentence correction. Modifiers are words or phrases or clauses that add descriptions or clarifying information to a sentence. Almost every sentence on the GMAT sentence correction will have at least one modifier.

And often the use of these modifiers is very important for the split in the sentence correction question. Before we can discuss the many logical issues that arise with modifiers we need to discuss their grammar. There are two large categories of modifiers. There are noun modifiers.

Noun modifiers are also known as adjectival phrases and clauses. Technically, any adjective is a noun modifier. And like adjectives, these phrases and clauses modify nouns. They answers questions such as which one, or what kind of, something like that. What kind of, which man? The man who was buying potatoes.

Or, which car? The car that can go from 0 to 60 in three hour, in three minutes. Something like that. Verb modifiers. These are also known as adverbial phrases and clauses. Like adverbs, these modify verbs and, by extension, the entire action of a clause.

So this is very different, verb modifiers are not acting necessarily on a single word, they may be acting on the clause as a whole, the action of the clause. These answer questions such as when, where, why and how. For examples of each, please go back and watch the videos on adverbial phrases and clauses and adjectival phrases and clauses in the parts of speech module. Non, noun modifiers and verb modifiers have very different rules, and we have to treat them very differently.

First let's talk about noun modifiers. Under most circumstances, noun modifiers must obey the Modifier Touch Rule. This means the modifying phrase or clause must be directly adjacent to the target noun it modifies. So, for example, the professor gave a copy of annotations on Ulysses to the student, who was enthusiastic about the writings of Joyce.

So that phrase starting with who, who was enthusiastic about the writings of Joyce, that is a modifying phrase. Technically that's a relative clause. The who and everything after that, that describes somebody. And of course, it should be describing the student. And of course this is grammatically correct sentence because the who clause is direct, is right next to the word student, and so they're adjacent, the clause is touching the word it modifies.

Student is the target of the modifying phrase and they're touching. There are a few special case exceptions to the modifier touch rule but the vast majority of cases, this is a rule that all noun modifiers follow. When a noun modifier is separated from its noun by other grammatical structures, this is called a misplaced modifier, a typical GMAT sentence correction mistake pattern. So, for example, the fugitives eluded federal agents who had crossed state lines in their pursuit, feeling, fearing arrest.

Well, this sentence has a problem. And the problem is that modifier, fearing arrest. Who's fearing arrest? Well, the, the pursuit itself, is not fearing arrest. The federal agents are not fearing arrest. This really should be modifying the noun way back at the beginning of the sentence.

And so this sentence is incorrect and awkward. We could fix this sentence by moving that modifying phrase closer to the beginning of the sentence, so that it was near the word fugitives. So, for example, we could say the fugitives, fearing arrest, eluded the federal agents who had crossed states in their pursuit. That's perfectly correct.

Some people might say it's a little bit awkward to have that break between the subject and the verb, but, but this is grammatically correct. We may quibble with some of the rhetoric of it but it's, it's grammatically 100% correct. We could also put that right at the beginning. Fearing arrest, the fugitives eluded the federal agents who had crossed state lines in their pursuit.

Arguably, this is the best version of the sentence. Here's a practice question. Pause the video, and then we'll talk about this. Okay so we have a comparison. And then following the comparison, following the underlined part, we have a kind of modifier.

In fact, this is technically an appositive phrase. We talked about appositive phrases way back in the, the opening section on parts of speech. An appositive phrase is a kind of noun modifier. And the trouble is here, we think about that appositive phrase, people who believed a silver-based economy would bring prosperity.

Who are we talking about? We're not talking about McKinley. McKinley is a person. He was a presidential candidate, he was actually a president. He was not a bunch of people who believed something. So, who should we be modifying with that?

We should be modifying the rural voters. And so this is a very tricky thing, and this appears often in, in this sentence correction. Notice that the underlined part itself is grammatically correct. Bryant was better at gaining the support of rural voters than was McKinley. That's 100% correct but, even though what's underlined is correct, it runs into problems when it plugs into the rest of the sentence.

And McKinley cannot be followed by, people who believed et cetera, et cetera. So having McKinley at the end of the underlined section is wrong. We need rural voters at the end of the underlined section. And so (B) is the best of the answers here. Now we can talk about verb modifiers. Verb modifiers have fewer restrictions than do non-modifiers.

In particular, the modifier touch rule DOES NOT apply to verbs. Very important to understand. The modifier touch rule is only about non-modifiers. It is NOT about verb modifiers. A verb modifier can appear anywhere in the sentence, as long as there is no ambiguity about which verb it is modifying.

So for example, it would be correct to say, by reading books, I learned how to cook Italian foods, including dishes made only in the rural regions of Tuscany. That's a perfectly correct sentence. It's a little bit, it's a little bit too personal, it's, it's not exactly the academic kind of material that you would see on the GMAT. But as far as the grammar of the sentence, 100% correct according to GMAT standards.

It would also be correct to put it right next to the verb. I learned by reading books how to cook Italian food, including dishes made blah blah blah. So that's perfectly correct also. Really, maybe the first one was a little more elegant, but both of these are 100% correct.

And here, I learned how to cook Italian food, by reading books, including dishes. Well, the problem here is, the including dishes made only in the rural regions of Tuscany. Well now, inadvertently, the, the, placement of the verb modifier is perfectly fine, but now that noun modifier, including dishes, that seems to, to modify books.

And it really should be modifying Italian foods. So now by sticking the verb modifier in between the noun and the noun modifier we've created a misplaced modifier. So that's one example of a problem you could have with a verb modifier. Is that the verb modifier itself is perfectly correct, but unfortunately where it land, it creates a misplaced modifier with the noun and the noun modifier.

Now, if we put it all the way at the end of the sentence, I learned how to cook Italian foods, including dishes made only in the rural regions of Tuscany, by reading books. Well now it's just kind of too far away, and it's not really clear by reading books, wait, what's reading books? In other words, at this point it becomes ambiguous.

What, what is that, by reading books, trying to modify? We've gotten too far away, there's been too much information, so that's another example of a poor placement of a verb modifier. So, we have more freedom with a verb modifier. We can't put it absolutely anywhere we want, but we definitely have more freedom with a verb modifier than we would have with a noun modifier.

Finally, notice that, if a participial phrase is used as a verb modifier, then the implied subject must appear somewhere in the sentence. So, perfectly correct to say, Congress lowered taxes, stimulating the economy. That's 100% correct. Stimulating is a verb modifier, it actually modifies the entire action of that independent clause, Congress lowered taxes.

And, the actor, the folks doing the stimulating, well, that would be Congress. Ultimately, it's Congress who did the stimulating by lowering taxes. But this version is incorrect. Taxes were lowered, stimulating the economy. The problem is, who's doing the stimulating? The only noun in this sentence now is taxes.

Well, taxes aren't doing the stimulating. So, in other words, this sentence is problematic because the actor does not appear. If we're gonna use a participial phrase, the actor must appear explicitly in the sentence. In summary, noun modifiers, in other words, adjectival phrases and clauses, modify nouns.

Verb modifiers, adverbial phrases and clauses, modify verbs and entire clauses. Under ordinary conditions, noun modifiers must obey the Modifier Touch Rule. They must touch the target noun, if not what we have is a misplaced modifier. Verb modifiers are more free in their position, they, they can't come between the target noun and its modifier. And it can't be so far away that ambiguity results.

So, those are two problems, but we have fewer restrictions with verb modifiers. And finally, the subject of a participle must always appear explicitly in the sentence.

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