Grapvine-Colleyville Independent School District
Colleyville Heritage High School

The SAT/PSAT writing section contains problems involving complex and compound-complex sentences. These sentences, which contain numerous interrelated facts and details, generally contain errors. Often, the add details do not clearly fit and work together. Perhaps the most common problem involves "dangling modifiers."

Please read a description of the problem below (with solution strategies), created by Purdue University's English Department. Following this explanation are numerous examples problems taken from released SAT/PSAT's.

The  following is taken from Purdue University's English Department:

Dangling Modifiers and How To Correct Them

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept.

Having finished the assignment, Jill turned on the TV.

"Having finished" states an action but does not name the doer of that action. In English sentences, the doer must be the subject of the main clause that follows. In this sentence, it is Jill. She seems logically to be the one doing the action ("having finished"), and this sentence therefore does not have a dangling modifier.

The following sentence has an incorrect usage:

Having finished the assignment, the TV was turned on.

"Having finished" is a participle expressing action, but the doer is not the TV set (the subject of the main clause): TV sets don't finish assignments. Since the doer of the action expressed in the participle has not been clearly stated, the participial phrase is said to be a dangling modifier.

Strategies for revising dangling modifiers:

1. Name the appropriate or logical doer of the action as the subject of the main clause:

Having arrived late for practice, a written excuse was needed.

Who arrived late? This sentence says that the written excuse arrived late. To revise, decide who actually arrived late. The possible revision might look like this:

Having arrived late for practice, the team captain needed a written excuse.

The main clause now names the person (the captain) who did the action in the modifying phrase (arrived late).

2. Change the phrase that dangles into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer of the action in that clause:

Without knowing his name, it was difficult to introduce him.

Who didn't know his name? This sentence says that "it" didn't know his name. To revise, decide who was trying to introduce him. The revision might look something like this:

Because Maria did not know his name, it was difficult to introduce him.

The phrase is now a complete introductory clause; it does not modify any other part of the sentence, so is not considered "dangling."

3. Combine the phrase and main clause into one:

To improve his results, the experiment was done again.

Who wanted to improve results? This sentence says that the experiment was trying to improve its own results. To revise, combine the phrase and the main clause into one sentence. The revision might look something like this:

He improved his results by doing the experiment again.

More examples of dangling modifiers and their revisions:

Incorrect: After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing.

Revised: After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.

Incorrect: Relieved of your responsibilities at your job, your home should be a place to relax.

Revised: Relieved of your responsibilities at your job, you should be able to relax at home.

Incorrect: The experiment was a failure, not having studied the lab manual carefully.

Revised: They failed the experiment, not having studied the lab manual carefully.



(Note: The dangling modifier has been color-coded blue. Note what word[s] they appear to modify.)


Burdened with three pieces of luggage and a pair of skis, Sarah's secret search for a baggage cart was desperate.

As patients, the medical directors of the clinic believe that you are entitled to know the reason for the increase in fees.

Lecturing at the university, read the poetry of Margaret Atwood was the advice Professor Clark gave her audience.

To ensure that the bread will have the same consistency from batch to batch, it is the quality control specialist who checks small random samples of dough from each lot.

Prized for their rarity, gourmets will spend a small fortune on wild truffles rather than settle for common mushrooms.

To satisfy her high school's community service requirements, patients at a hospital were visited by Jan three afternoons a week.

Prior to closing an airplane's outer door, federal regulations requires that all passengers be seated and have their seat belts fastened.

A beautifully written narrative of the author's boyhood in South America, his descriptions of animal life in the plains region are fascinating.

Returning to Dayville after ten years, the small town seemed much livelier to Margo than it had been when she was growing up there.

Many of the instruments used in early operations of the United States Army Signal Corps were adaptations of equipment used by the Plains Indians, particularly that of the heliograph.

Of all the states represented at the conference, the governor of Missouri was the only one to present plans for enforcing the new regulations.