Tag Archive - misplaced modifiers

Is Your Modifier Misplaced?

Let’s start the new year by taking a look at misplaced modifiers. A modifier is . . . well, what it sounds like. It’s a word or phrase that modifies (affects, changes) another word.

In the phrase “blue ball,” the adjective blue modifies the noun ball. Writers sometimes stick those modifiers in the wrong place in a sentence. Take a look at these lines and see if you can identify the problem:

  • This morning I chased a dog in my pajamas. (Did the dog dress himself?)
  • I sold a desk to a lady that had broken legs. (Poor woman; how will she carry that desk?)
  • We sat on the porch listening to the birds sing while playing cards. (Wow, talented birds.)
  • She saw several whales on vacation in Mexico. (Do whales take vacations?)
  • The hunter waited for the lion with a rifle in his hand. (Or should I say, “in his paw”?)

Modifiers can sneak into the wrong places if we’re not careful.

Solution: Check your long, complex sentences and make them shorter. Break them into two shorter sentences that have clear adjectives connected to (modifying) the noun. Or move the modifying phrase to the proper location in the sentence.

For example: The hunter waited with a rifle in his hand for the lion. Easy.

Now that I found those modifiers, maybe you can tell me where I misplaced my glasses.

More Dangling Things

Here are some more dangling things. These are called dangling (and misplaced) modifiers. A writer might start a sentence with a modifying phrase, but all too often she doesn’t start the second phrase with the correct noun (that goes with it). Here are some examples of misplaced modifiers:

• With one hundred years of experience, you can count on Sears. [You don’t have a hundred years of experience.]
• As a scientist, his lab is far from his home. [His lab is not a scientist.]
• Fresh out of school, finding a job was impossible. [“Finding a job” is not fresh out of school.]
• Doctors see babies once they finish their residency. [Do babies go through residency?]
• They visited the lions at the zoo after they ate a zebra. [Who ate the zebra?]
• They are writing a newsletter for parents of teens who take drugs. [Are the parents or the teens taking the drugs?]
• This is a novel of betrayal by a famous author. [Did the author betray someone?]
• She followed the man into the store with determination. [Never knew a store could be so determined!]

These are easy to fix, of course, just by rewording. If you look for sentences you write that have two nouns (subject and object) in them, that will help you spot the potential problem.