GMAT Sentence Correction (SC): Most Common Modification Errors

GMAT Sentence Correction (SC) questions can seem difficult for non-native English speakers. But with the right practice, they are the easiest to fix to get a high GMAT score. The GoGMAT test preparation series on MBA Crystal Ball moves on to a dreaded topic on the GMAT verbal syllabus. With the examples used you’ll find it easier to understand GMAT SC questions.

GMAT Sentence Correction: Most Common Modification Errors

Modifiers, elements of a sentence that serve to modify or limit the meaning of other words, can range from a single adjective to complex phrases or even clauses. Although typically considered a feature of written speech, modifiers can be found in almost any typical English sentence. Sometimes misused even by native speakers of English, modifiers often cause errors both in grammar and in meaning. Such errors are among those most frequent on GMAT Sentence Correction questions. This article will discuss mistakes in the use of modifiers that are regularly tested on GMAT.

Misplaced Modifiers

Words and phrases that modify nouns must stand directly next to the nouns they modify. Violation of this rule results in a mistake typically referred to as a misplaced modifier. A modifier is misplaced if it stands next to the wrong noun. Consider the following sentence correction question:

Alice took a math class to complete her major requirements, which turned out to be rather interesting.

In this example, the modifying phrase which turned out to be rather interesting is meant to describe the math class, not the requirements Alice has to complete for her major. Therefore, it should be moved next to the noun it describes: To complete her major requirements, Alice took a math class, which turned out to be rather interesting.

Be particularly careful with the position of short, one-word modifiers, since their misplacement is sometimes not easy to notice but results in unwanted changes in meaning. Compare the following two sentences:

A picture that was supposedly painted by Vermeer has been stolen.

A picture that was painted by Vermeer supposedly has been stolen.

In the first sentence above, supposedly modifies painted by Vermeer, that is, we are not certain whether the picture is in fact a Vermeer painting. In the second sentence, supposedly modifies has been stolen, thus conveying a meaning entirely different from that of a first sentence: we no longer question the authenticity of the picture; what we doubt instead is whether it has become an object of theft.

Dangling Modifiers

A modifier is referred to as dangling if the word it is supposed to modify is not to be found anywhere in the sentence. This mistake frequently occurs in sentences that start with participial phrases. Look at the following examples:

Wrong: Thoroughly inspected for signs of wear or damage, the engineer found the machine to be in perfect order.

Correct: Thoroughly inspected for signs of wear or damage, the machine was found to be in perfect order.

Wrong: Having completed the technical inspection, the machine was found to be in perfect order.

Correct: Having completed the technical inspection, the engineer found the machine to be in perfect order.

In the first pair of sentences, the modifier thoroughly inspected for signs of wear or damage is clearly intended to modify the machine, not the engineer. Therefore, the machine should be made the subject of the main clause that directly follows the modifier. Conversely, the sentence that starts with having completed the technical inspection should have the engineer as its subject, since this modifier clearly describes the engineer’s actions, not those of the machine.

Adjectives vs. Adverbs

A change of modifiers, however slight, can result in an unwanted change in the author’s intent. Consider the following example:

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is his supposedly best-known painting.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is his supposed best-known painting.

In the first sentence, the adverb supposedly modifies best-known. If the adverb is replaced with an adjective, an unnecessary change of meaning occurs: among da Vinci’s works, Mona Lisa might not in fact be the best-known one, but it is certainly a painting, so we want the adverb supposedly to modify the adjective best-known, not the noun painting.

Conversely, were we to modify a noun (as in “Mona Lisa is Leonardo da Vinci’s supposed masterpiece”) we would need an adjective supposed, not an adverb supposedly. In GMAT problems, such adjectives as supposed. Usual, seeming, frequent, recent, significant, and independent are sometimes replaced with their corresponding adverbs ending with -ly to create changes in meaning that can be easy to overlook.

Which vs. the Present Participle

Another common modification mistake that appears on the GMAT is incorrect use of modifying clauses that start with which. Consider the following example:

The factory has recently installed new machines for processing raw material, which has led to an increase in its output.

No matter how common in everyday speech, sentences like the one above are considered wrong on GMAT. What the author obviously wants to say here is that the installation of new machines has led to increased factory output. However, the clause beginning with which can only refer to the noun or noun phrase that directly precedes it. In the example above, it seems that raw material has led to an increase in the factory’s output, so the sentence requires correction.

Turning the first clause (the factory has recently installed…) into a noun phrase and making it the subject of the sentence is one way to correct this mistake: The installation of new machines for processing raw material has led to an increase in the factory’s output. Alternatively, the sentence can be corrected by using a present participle: The factory has recently installed new machines for processing raw material, significantly increasing its output. The -ing form is often used as a modifier on GMAT to express the result of the main clause.

Regardless of what type of modification errors you encounter, the most important rules concerning modifying words or phrases are these: (1) Modifiers should make sense referring to the words they seem to modify and (2) to avoid ambiguity or changes in meaning, modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the words they are intended to modify.

Continue learning on our GMAT discussion forum. If you have any GMAT related questions about this post or any other GMAT topic, head over to the GMAT preparation helpdesk and shoot your queries.

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// Sameer Kamat
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. For professional Admissions Consulting or Career Counselling, connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook


  1. akil manasiya says:

    sir, i am planning to give gmat exam this year. i am a dentist with 5 years of experience. had my own clinic.but i am very much intrested in buisness and honestly i feel i can gives more buisness then in sir my query is will i be able to get in top 50 us mba school , if i get a good gmat score as i am from a medical background.and also i will have as issue with letter of recommendation since i was self employed never worked under someone.

  2. Ravi Valecha says:

    HI Sameer,

    I need advise whether I should prepare for GMAT or not and what are the good Business Schools which I can target.I have completed my Master in Technology(Mechanical Department) from IIT Guwahati in 2014. After that I started working in 3DPLM Software Solution as a Technical Support Engineer. Now I am willing to do MBA. Please let me know if it is a good option for me and if I can get admission in reputed business school. I have total 1 year and 6 months of experience.

    Thanks and Regards


  3. Ruchi says:

    By the time I will appear in GMAT I will have 4.5 years of work experience in Software Industry.
    I got 81% in 10th class and 89% in Class 12. Also My B.E Percentage is 79%.
    I have done my BE from the TOP Govt institute of MP.Also I have worked with TOP MNC and Currently
    I am working with Top Retail Industry.Howsoever throughout my professional experience I have worked
    as Developer.Does it affect my application? Also I have not opted for GMAT
    so What is ideal GMAT score along with my profile to get into ISB?
    Also, I am withdrawing pretty decent salary (15-20 LPA slab) Will ISB placements consider previous employer Salary? If I get into ISB is it a profitable move ?
    What all other courses can I opt for according to my profile?

  4. Shaurya Las says:

    hie everyone ,
    i have completed my graduation with 63% and then joined Essar and was part of the accounts dept have 5 years of experience with them, now am plannning to do an executive mba from sp jain please advice, if i should do a full time mba or a part time ~ its been 5 years am not in touch with studies so scoring for me in gmat/cat would be difficult because my capabilities and my job timings dont support a good score and concentrating now has become tougher than ever.

    please guide/advice if i have any better options! that am not aware off,

    thank you

  5. n mrinal says:

    Hi sameer, it was nice to read this article. I am working as Deputy Commandant in Central Industrial Security Force since last 10 years with diverse exposure. Now i am planning to pursue MBA. I have got decent grades during my school and college days. In fact, i once appeared for GMAT but could achieve good score. I am really in a fix whether to leave a government job at this point of my career or not.

  6. Shruti Jain says:

    I really wanted learn about how I can get into HSB or GSB.
    Due to some issues, I had a relatively low result in my 12 std (78.6% or 3.33gpa).
    Currently I’m pursuing Chartered Accountancy and have been doing well till now.
    I’m also planning to take IELTS and TOEFL..
    I’m considering taking a GMAT but that’d come later down the road.
    Can you give me some suggestions as to what directions to take and what more exams to apply to?

  7. @Akil: You will need a strong reason for pursuing an MBA. Admission officers will want to read it in your essays. You can ask your professors for a recommendation, though the impact will be low.

    @Ravi: The experience is too less. You could wait for a couple of years and then apply. Meanwhile take the GMAT when you can. That will give you an idea of your potential will competitive exams.

    @Ruchi: Read this article about minimum GMAT score for ISB and other good schools:

    @Shaurya: Full-time is always more impactful and credible than part-time MBA.

    @Mrinal: It won’t be a good idea to leave a stable job when you haven’t planned what to do next. Hang in there and do some more research and introspection.

    @Shruti: Here’s how to get into Harvard Business School from India:

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