The nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote the only eyewitness account of the great eruption of Vesuvius in two letters to the historian Tacitus.



(A) The nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote the only eyewitness account of the great eruption of Vesuvius in two letters to the historian Tacitus.


(B) To the historian Tacitus, the nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote two letters, being the only eyewitness accounts of the great eruption of Vesuvius.


(C) The only eyewitness account is in two letters by the nephew of Pliny the Elder writing to the historian Tacitus an account of the great eruption of Vesuvius.


(D) Writing the only eyewitness account, Pliny the Elder’s nephew accounted for the great eruption of Vesuvius in two letters to the historian Tacitus.


(E) In two letters to the historian Tacitus, the nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote the only eyewitness account of the great eruption of Vesuvius.


This question is based on Modifiers and Construction.


The subject of this sentence is “the nephew of Pliny the Elder”. The sentence also conveys the information that he wrote the only eyewitness account of something. 


The modifiers - of the great eruption of Vesuvius and in two letters to the historian Tacitus – can cause confusion if not placed properly in the sentence.


In Option A, the placement of the two modifiers conveys the meaning that the eruption took place in two letters to the historian Tacitus. Since the meaning conveyed is illogical, Option A can be eliminated.


In Option B, the placement of the modifier “To the historian Tacitus” is awkward, since it should ideally be placed after the clause “the nephew of Pliny the Elder wrote two letters”. 

Furthermore, the participle phrase “, being the only eyewitness accounts of the great eruption of Vesuvius” is separated from the previous clause by a comma. When a participle phrase is separated by a comma, it modifies the subject of the previous clause, which in this case is “the nephew of Pliny the Elder”. Since “the nephew…Elder” cannot be described as “the only eyewitness accounts” as the modifier states, the sentence is illogical. So, Option B can also be eliminated.


In Option C, it is not clear what the only eyewitness account refers to as the appropriate modifier is not placed next to it. Furthermore, the subject of the participle phrase “writing to the historian Tacitus an account of the great eruption of Vesuvius” is not clear. So, Option C can also be eliminated.


Option D repeats the error in Option C. There is no dangling modifier in this option as the subject “the nephew…Elder” is placed immediately after the modifier “writing….account”. However, the modifier is not complete as it should also provide information about what the eyewitness account is of. The phrase “the eruption of Vesuvius” is placed far away from it, causing some confusion about the meaning. So, Option D can also be eliminated.


Option E corrects the construction error in Option B by using a more detailed phrase at the beginning of the sentence “In two letters to the historian Tacitus”. This sentence also makes it clear that the eyewitness account was of the eruption of Vesuvius. Therefore, E is the most appropriate option.