SAT Writing: Improving Sentences

Improving Sentences

Select the choice that results in the best sentence – the sentence that follows the requirements of standard written English and communicates effectively.

Burdened by several heavy grocery bags, the stairs were difficult for the woman to climb.

A.  the stairs were difficult for the woman to climb.
B.  the stairs were difficult for the woman who is climbing.
C.  the woman climbed the stairs with difficulty.
D.  the woman difficultly climbed the stairs.
E.  the woman climbed the stairs, which were difficult.

Knowsys Method

Read the sentence carefully, listening for errors. If you do not find the error immediately, then check the underlined portion against the Big 8 grammar concepts.

What do you notice about the original sentence?  It sounds a little like the stairs—and not the woman—are carrying the grocery bags.  This confusion is created by a misplaced modifier, a describing phrase that is not placed next to the word it describes.  When a sentence begins with a modifier phrase followed by a comma, the very next independent noun should be the subject of that phrase.  The woman is carrying the grocery bags in this sentence, so “the woman” should follow the comma.  Now let’s go through each choice and see which one works best.  

A.  We already found an error in this choice, so eliminate it.

B.  This choice has the same issue with a misplaced modifier, and it introduces a verb tense change that makes no sense.  Eliminate it.

C.  This choice fixes the modifier issue and makes sense.  If the woman is weighed down by the heavy grocery bags, she is likely to climb up the stairs with difficulty.  Keep this choice and scan the remaining two choices.

D.  Although this choice resolves the original modifier issue, it introduces a new problem.  How does one “difficultly climb” something?  That wording does not make sense, so eliminate this choice.

E.  This choice looks okay until the end.  Stairs are difficult to climb or to descend, but they are not difficult in and of themselves.  Eliminate this choice.  

The correct answer is C.

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