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Grammar guide: Subject-modifier placement

A guide to the Standard English convention of subject-modifier placement

What is subject-modifier placement?

Subject-modifier placement refers to a convention of Standard English that requires a
and its
to be next to one another.
Incorrect:
  • Consumed in the form of sugars and starches, the human body uses carbohydrates as its primary source of energy.
Correct:
  • Consumed in the form of sugars and starches, carbohydrates serve as the primary source of energy for the human body.
Subject-modifier placement may be tested in one of the Form, structure, and sense questions that you encounter on test day.

How to identify subject-modifier placement questions

When approaching form, structure, and sense questions, it's important to identify which Standard English conventions are being tested.
You may want to look for subject-modifier placement errors if
  • the blank is longer than a few words
  • the choices rearrange words or phrases into different orders
If you don't see one or both of these features, then the question likely doesn't deal with subject-modifier placement.
Let's look at a subject-modifier placement question now:
Subject-Modifier placement example
Rabinal Achí is a precolonial Maya dance drama performed annually in Rabinal, a town in the Guatemalan highlands. Based on events that occurred when Rabinal was a city-state ruled by a king, ______ had once been an ally of the king but was later captured while leading an invading force against him.
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?
Choose 1 answer:

Top tips

Double-check introductory modifiers

When modifying phrases come at the beginning of a sentence, our brains will often do the work of connecting the modifier to whichever noun it logically describes. But these modifying phrases don't apply to the whole sentence: they still need to be placed right next to their subjects.
Any time you see a blank come after an introductory modifying phrase, double check the noun that follows to be sure it makes sense alongside the modifier.

Beware possessive nouns

When a noun phrase starts with a possessive noun, it can make modifier placement extra confusing. Remember that possessive nouns really function as adjectives: the noun that follows the possessive is the actual focus of the noun phrase. That's the noun the modifier needs to describe.

Your turn

Subject-Modifier Placement
Having returned from the ocean to the stream where it was born, an adult salmon's life cycle ends when it spawns and dies, after which its offspring start the cycle anew.
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?
Choose 1 answer:

Subject-Modifier Placement
While popular depiction might characterize surfing as a summer sport, the reality is that winter conditions are considered better for surfing. Generated by seasonal storms far off the coast, ______
Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?
Choose 1 answer:

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Nguyễn Trọng Đức Minh
    This subject-modifier is soo hard. I'm a second language learner
    (68 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Kaya
    My Brain isn't braining. How do we find which noun we should look for?
    (46 votes)
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    • hopper cool style avatar for user BlobTheBob
      Generally, you want to look for the noun which the context is describing. For example, in the first question (Having returned from the ocean to the stream where it was born...), the context is describing the salmon. Notice how the first answer choice describes the life cycle of the salmon (not the salmon itself), and the third and fourth answer choices don't directly reference the salmon.

      Hope this helps!
      (10 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Emirlan Parpiev
    Quick way to do this correctly is look at choices' first words. I've noticed it works most of the time, but not all. For example:

    Generated by seasonal storms far off the coast:

    A)surfers highly ...
    B)winter swells ...
    C)the shore ...
    D)winter is ...

    Only winter swells can be generated by seasonal storms. I am sorry if it's obvious; however, it helps me, and I hope it will help someone else. In addition, some choices have commas. Try to count them and see if they're correct in the sentence. Eliminate the wrong ones. Good luck.
    (38 votes)
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  • blobby purple style avatar for user Ezra
    Good thing modern English lacks thee and thy 😂
    (28 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Life is tough but SAT is easy
    Can anyone explain the salmon's life question plzz
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user StudyBuddy
      Having returned from the ocean to the stream where it was born, an adult salmon's life cycle ends when it spawns and dies, after which its offspring start the cycle anew.
      I assume this is the question you're talking about.
      So, when we're doing these types of questions, it's important to know that what comes after the comma is what is being talked about before the comma. In other words, we need to make sure we have the right subject right after the subject modifier.
      So, what's our subject modifier in this sentence?
      This is our subject modifier: "Having returned from the ocean to the stream where it was born..."
      Ok, so now all we got to do is figure out what returns from the ocean to the stream where it was born.
      Option A: an adult salmon's life cycle ends when it spawns and dies... so what is the first noun in this sentence? cycle is the first noun. So that is what is being modified. So now we have to ask the question, does the cycle return from the ocean to the stream where it was born? I don't think so.
      Option B: an adult salmon spawns and dies, completing its life cycle... what is the first noun in this sentence? salmon is the first noun. Does the salmon return from the ocean to the stream where it was born? Yes, indeed it does!
      Option C: the spawning and death of an adult salmon complete its life cycle...what is the first noun in this sentence? spawning and/or death is the 1st. Does the spawning and/or death return from the ocean to the stream where it was born? Not quite.
      Option D: the life cycle of an adult salmon is complete when it spawns and die...again, here the first noun is cycle and we know that the cycle doesn't return from the ocean to the stream where it was born.
      So, we're left with option b, which is the correct answer!
      Hope this helps!
      (18 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user 12459247
    I legally have ADHD, and what is a modifier
    (7 votes)
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  • primosaur seed style avatar for user sierzputken20
    Can you explain this to mean if I was a first grader.
    (3 votes)
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    • duskpin tree style avatar for user margies
      Ok so I don't know how well I'll be able to do this but here I go....

      While popular depiction might characterize surfing as a summer sport, the reality is that winter conditions are considered better for surfing. Generated by seasonal storms far off the coast, ____
      Which choice completes the text so that it conforms to the conventions of Standard English?

      A. surfers highly prize the large, predictable sets of waves that are created by winter swells.
      B. winter swells reach the shore as large, predictable sets of waves that are highly prized by surfers.
      C. the shore causes large winter swells to break in predictable sets of waves highly prized by surfers.
      D. winter is highly prized by surfers for large swells that break in large, predictable sets of waves.

      Here is the question and the options for the answer. To start off with, you want to read the question and then try to see what it is trying to tell you.
      After reading this question I can see that it is trying to tell me that Surfing is better as a winter sport because of the waves.

      When the question says "Generated by seasonal storms far off the coast," I can immediately see that something will be generated. The first word after the comma is the thing that is doing the generating so let's try that first.

      For answer A: Are "surfers" generating something? No, they are not the ones generating big waves.

      For answer B: Are "winter swells" generating something? Yes! winter swells are generating the waves for the surfers. Since this makes complete sense, don't look at the other two because those will probably confuse you more.

      I hope this helps! Good Luck!
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user 2fcj7p6wwp
    Any anyone explain the salmon’s question to me? Why only option B is correct not the other options
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user ia5926612
    I don't know this is hard everytime I pick an option I pick the wrong In the end only one option is to picked the correct option I am a non native I don't understand orders I barely know how to speak simple English ughhhh someone please Tell me a trick to solve this
    (3 votes)
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    • mr pink red style avatar for user Faiaz
      just place the subject that is being modified, after the modifying phrase and thats it.I know its easy to say but sometimes its hard to understand which noun the modifying phrase is refering to.Im a non native as well so it confuses me sometimes too.
      you can watch "misplaced and dangling modifiers" videos on youtube.I hope they will clear all ur doubts.Good luck
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user HenrikSarrazin
    high key this is more of an IQ question the SAT is hated for, hard to teach "common sense" problems
    (3 votes)
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