Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that add description to sentences. Typically, you will find a modifier placed right next to the word it logically describes (either in front of or behind it).
A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies or describes. Because of the separation, sentences containing this error may often sound ridiculous, awkward or confusing. Furthermore, they can be downright illogical. The good news is misplaced modifiers can usually be corrected by moving the modifier to a more appropriate place in that sentence, generally right next to the word it modifies. One of the most effective ways to avoid misplaced modifiers is to simplify sentences. If you are having a hard time including all the information you wish in just one sentence, you can just simply split it in two. It is always better to be concise. But let’s find out together the types of misplaced modifiers and how to correct them as easily as possible.
There are several kinds of misplaced modifiers:
- Misplaced adjectivesare sometimes incorrectly separated from the nouns they modify, and they almost always distort the intended meaning. Even though constructions like these are common in everyday speech and ordinarily cause their listeners no trouble in understanding the correct message, they may be quite imprecise and, therefore, should have no place in written texts. Example of incorrect use of the adjective: “The red girl’s bag is on the floor”. The construction implies that the girl is red which is obviously not the case. The correct construction, i.e. “The girl’s red bag is on the floor.” correctly emphasises that the bag is red.
- Placement of adverbs can also change the meaning in sentences.
The examples below illustrate how the placement of just can change a whole sentence’s meaning.
The sentence: “Just Mary went to the party.” implies that Mary was the only guest to arrive at that party, while “Mary was just at the party.” means that Mary attended the party a short while ago.
Each of these sentences says something logical but quite different, and the correctness depends upon what the writer had in mind.
Often, misplacing an adverb not only alters the intended meaning, but also creates a sentence the meaning of which is highly unlikely or completely ridiculous.
Watch out for adverbs such as only, just, nearly, merely, and almost. They are often misplaced and cause an unintended meaning.
Example: “I only want to eat grapes.” – meaning that my only desire now is to eat grapes.
“I want to eat only grapes.” – meaning that grapes are the only food I want to eat.
“I almost failed every literature class I took.” – meaning that I passed all those classes, even if it was close.
“I failed almost every literature class I took.” – meaning that I passed a few classes and failed most of them.
- Misplaced phrases may cause a sentence to sound awkward and may create a meaning that does not make sense. The sentences below contain misplaced phrases that modify the wrong nouns.
To fix the errors and clarify the meaning, you should put the phrases next to the noun they are supposed to modify.
Misplaced modifier: “The dealer sold the Mercedes to the buyer with leather seats.”
Correct use: “The dealer sold the Mercedes with leather seats to the buyer.”
But we should pay attention to the process of correcting a misplaced modifier, as we can create a sentence with two possible meanings.
Example: “My sister said on Saturday she would come over my place.” In order to be able to find out the correct information (whether my sister said this on Saturday or my sister will come on Saturday at my place), place the words “On Saturday” where they belong.
Example 1: “My sister said she would come over on Saturday”.
Example 2: “On Saturday, my sister said she would come over”.
- A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept.
Example of incorrect use: “After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing.”
Correct version: “After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.”
Below, you can find examples of funny misplaced modifiers in adds, newspaper articles, song lyrics or simply in our day to day spoken English:
“Wanted: Man to wash dishes and two waitresses.”
“Shoes and shirts required to eat here.”
“I Only Have Eyes for You.”
“I walked the dog in my pyjamas.”
“The kind mother offered sandwiches to all kids in plastic bags.”
“I saw a dead cat driving on the highway.”
“She wore a yellow helmet on her head which was clearly too big.”
“She used to walk her old dog in heels.”
“I drove my new brother’s car.”
“Covered in mustard and ketchup, I enjoy hot dogs.”
“They said it would rain on the television.”
“He bought a cat for his girlfriend they call Fluffy.”
“The patient was referred to a psychiatrist with several mental problems.”
“I saw the trailer peeking through the window.”
“Freshly painted, Jim left the room to dry.”
“He held the umbrella over Janet’s head that he got from Delta Airlines.”
“After drinking too much, the toilet kept moving.”
“She carefully studied the Picasso hanging in the art gallery with her friend.”
“Having an automatic stick shift, Nancy bought the car.”
“Caution pedestrians slippery when wet.”
“Huge kids sale.”
“Kids 20% off.”
“Tables are for eating customers only.”
“After eating all their food, we put the dogs outside.”
“I found a huge boulder taking a walk in the woods.”
“We saw cotton growing from our car window.”
“Dipped in chocolate, my kids love pretzels.”
‘Tired of cleaning yourself? Let Merry Maids do it for you.”
“The mayor discusses the high cost of living with several women.”
“The young lady was walking the dog on the telephone.”
“We are looking for a babysitter for our precious six-year-old who doesn’t drink or smoke and owns a car.”