Unlike identifying sentence errors where the mistake is generally grammatical (think: subject-verb agreement, appropriate pronoun choice etc), improving sentences questions have errors that involve the structure of the whole sentence. A common mistake in the sentence is modifier placement. A modifier is a word or group of words that provides more information about the noun or verb in the rest of the sentence. Usually, it’s placed right next to the word it is meant to modify.
E.g. A customer who was caught stealing was thrown out of the store by the security guard.
In this sentence, the modifying phrase is “who was caught stealing” and it is placed right next to the noun it is meant to modify – the customer. If it was placed anywhere else, for example, “A customer was thrown out of the store by the security guard who was caught stealing”, you might be led to think that it was the security guard who stole something, not the customer.
The use of words such as “that”, “which”, “who”, “whom” at a start of a phrase usually indicate that its a modifying phrase and you should try and keep it as close as possible to the word it is modifying. Sometimes, modifying phrases don’t use such words to let you know that it is the modifier. For example,
John and Judy sat discussing the music in the cafe.
Jake told me he went fishing at the store.
The sculptor created a statue filled with inspiration.
The above sentences can be ambiguous. In the first statement about John and Judy, are they discussing the music played at the cafe or are they sitting down at a cafe discussing some type of unknown music? In the second statement, is John fishing at the store? Or is he telling me that he went fishing while we were at the store? In the last statement, is the statue filled with inspiration or was the sculptor filled with inspiration when he molded the statue. Clearly, if I rephrased the above sentences into the format below, I would convey my intended meaning a lot more effectively.
Test your skills with this SAT Grockit writing practice question!