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Here is a usage and mechanics question that I need help understanding:

Change the italicized portion with the best replacement, or choose A if correct.

When light from a distant source, such as the sun, it strikes a collection of water drops, such as rain, spray, or fog, a rainbow many appear.

A. such as the sun, it strikes

B. like the sun's striking

C. such as the sun, and striking

D. such as the sun, strikes

E. like the sun's strikes

For this question I chose E, because it seems as though light is being being expanded upon, so you would give the light from the sun as an example, rather than the sun itself. Also, strikes fixes the comma splice. Anyway, the correct answer is D. I think is so because the set off phrase within the commas is giving an example of a source, rather than an example of light.

Essentially, my question is how can I know when the set off phrase (by the way, what are those types of phrases called; the ones of the form "such as the sun"?) modifies the word "source" or "light"? I'm thinking that it modifies "source" because it is adjacent to it, but I want a deeper explanation than that.

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A. such as the sun, it strikes

The "when" clause already has a subject -- "light from a distant source"; the word "it" is a second subject not part of a compound. Not allowed.

B. like the sun's striking

"Like" must give an example of the preceding "source," so the object of the preposition must be a source of light, not a kind of action ("striking").

C. such as the sun, and striking

The subject "light from a distant source" needs a finite verb, i.e., one that has a complete sense. "Striking" is just the present participle of strike. It has no tense or number. The clause needs both for its verb.

D. such as the sun, strikes

Great. The sun is a source of distant light, so the "such as" makes sense. "Strikes" is a present tense verb, singular to agree with the singular subject "light."

E. like the sun's strikes

Again, the prepositional phrase with "like" modifies the source, but it's not the sun's source. The sun is the source.

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What the question is trying to test is merely one's ability to detect that the "it" in "it strikes" is extraneous. You know, like in those "My friend Bob, he is a builder" sentences.

There is nothing about the word order that dictates it has to be the source, not the light, that's being explained. In strict-pedantry mode (appropriate for a test) I believe what makes the answer E incorrect is primarily its lack of commas.

A secondary reason may be the contrast of "like for comparison, such as for examples". A comparison would be grammatically possible there, but this particular comparison would be awkward in style because of the general topic of the sentence, the asymmetry between "from… source" and "the sun's" (not "from the sun") and the fact that it would all come before the "strikes".

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