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Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Welcome to a lesson on modifiers. Now modifiers let's start with a quick definition are just a group of words that describes a noun and when you see modifiers on the SAT they are going to appear generally at the beginning of a sentence followed by the noun that they are describing and most likely you will find them on the improving sentences questions in the writing section. Now to make that more concrete let's look at some examples.

So here is our first example of a modifier used correctly. Now this part right here, 'delightfully sweet' is a modifier. Like we said earlier a modifier is just a group of words describing a noun and 'delightfully sweet' is a very small group, just two words but it's a group of words describing a noun and the noun that it describes immediately follows, that's the 'cup cakes' and this modifiers is used correctly because sure enough 'delightfully sweet' does describe the 'cup cakes' but we can have a very similar sentence that uses modifiers improperly and so let me show you what a wrong answer choice on the SAT would be.

A wrong answer choice that uses modifiers wrong. That's right here 'delightfully sweet, the bakery sold out of cup cakes within the thirty minutes'. Now this might sound okay to your ear but in SAT land it's not okay because it uses modifiers wrong. Let's have a look the modifier is still 'delightfully sweet' and that modifier describes the noun that follows 'the bakery' as you can imagine 'the bakery' is not 'delightfully sweet' so this would be a wrong answer choice on the SAT. Let's look at the second of our three examples now. 'Having cleaned everything thoroughly Rebecca admired her spotless home'. Now yet again the modifier starts the sentence and it describes the noun that immediately follows so the modifier is 'having cleaned everything thoroughly' and that describes 'Rebecca' because indeed 'Rebecca cleaned everything thoroughly' that one is fine.

Let's look at a really similar sentences using modifiers improperly. 'Having cleaned everything thoroughly Rebecca's home was spotless'. The modifier is the same here but instead of describing 'Rebecca' it now describes 'Rebecca's home' and that's not going to work because 'Rebecca's home' didn't do any cleaning. So this would be an incorrect answer choice on the SAT. Third example 'as a first female president on the ACLU, Nadine Strossen is a remarkable woman'. Now can you figure out the modifier and can you figure out the noun that it is describing. You should know by now that this is the modifier and this is the noun it's describing. So 'as the first female president of the ACLU' it's describing 'Nadine Strossen' and that's right that is 'Nadine Strossen'. But let's look at a similar version of the same sentence that is not correct. 'As the first female president of the ACLU, many people consider Nadine Strossen a remarkable woman.' Same modifier but a different noun being described. So this sentence is actually saying that 'many people were the first president of the ACLU' and that's just not true so this is also an answer choice that would be incorrect. So now it's time for you to try.

If a sentence started 'outlawed during the prohibition,...' what would be a good noun to follow that modifier. What does 'outlawed during the prohibition' describe. Well let's start out with what it's not. A bad way to start the sentence would be 'outlawed during the prohibition, people nonetheless consumed alcohol frequently.' This is the modifier and it's describing 'people' but as you may recall 'people were not outlawed during the prohibition rather it was 'alcohol'. 'Outlawed during the prohibition' is a modifier that describes 'alcohol'. So this first one would be a bad answer choice on the SAT and the second one would be a good answer choice because it uses modifiers properly.

Let's do one more example like this. 'The capital of France,...' how should we continue that sentence. Well I'll tell you how we shouldn't. Something like 'the capital of France, many tourist visit Paris.' According to the sentence as I hope you've realized by now 'the capital of France is many tourist' not true. What is true is that 'the capital of France is Paris' so after the modifier we need to have the word 'Paris'. The first was a bad answer choice the second would be a good one.

Now let's go into the application. So here is a type of question you would see in the improving sentences section and you can tell it's a modifier question because it starts with a modifier. 'Once a small town' has to describe a noun that immediately follows so right off the bat you can tell that the current answer choice which is always answer choice 'A' is wrong because 'once a small town does not describe developers'. So what is really great about this modifier questions is that you can often eliminate two or three or four answer choices pretty much instantly. Let's go through and get rid of everything that doesn't have a noun that's described by 'once a small town'.

'Developers', do 'not a small town'. 'Blithedale' maybe. 'The work of developers' not a 'small town'. 'Blithedale' maybe. 'Developers' not a 'small town'. So right away we are down to two answers. Let's read them and check for other grammatical problems and see which one sounds better that will help us decide between the two choices left. 'B' is 'Blithedale has turned into a thriving metropolis thanks to developers'. Sounds promising let's always make sure to check the remaining answer choices in this case 'D. Blithedale has turned into a thriving metropolis with developers'. Sounds a little awkward so we are going to choose and 'B' is the right answer.

So let's talk about the bottom line on modifiers. First of all a definition; modifiers are a group of words that describe a noun and when a sentence starts with modifier than you have to make sure that modifier describes the noun immediately following and if it doesn't the answer choice is wrong. So keep out an eye for modifiers especially in the improving sentences section and you will start to see them coming after a while because you'll hear this little voice in your head that says 'built in 1915' comma or 'approved by an overwhelming majority of congress' comma and you will immediately know to check the noun that follows right after to make sure that there is modifier agreement.