A modifier is a word or phrase that adds detail or description to a sentence. In the example sentences below, the modifiers are underlined.
- I walked in and out of dozens of stores yesterday, searching for the perfect purse.
- Shopping with Lisa today, I found a great purse.
While modifiers add detail and interest to sentences, they must be used carefully so that the reader understands the details being added. Writers generally make two major modifier mistakes: dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers.
A dangling modifier occurs when the subject of the modifier is unclear. Most dangling modifiers occur at the beginning of sentences, but they can also occur at the end.
Consider the sentence below and its revision (the modifiers are underlined).
- INCORRECT: Having looked through the whole music store, the CD I wanted just wasn’t there.
From the way this sentence is written, it actually looks like the CD has been looking through the whole music store. Even though readers can probably guess that it is the writer who has looked through the whole music store, the dangling modifier makes the sentence unclear. We can correct the dangling modifier and make the sentence clearer by adding a subject for the modifier.
- POSSIBLE REVISION: Having looked through the whole music store, I realized that the CD I wanted just wasn’t there.
Misplaced modifiers occur when the subject of the modifier is unclear because the modifier is poorly placed. The reader may be unsure of what word the modifier is describing. The reader may even think the misplaced modifier is describing a different word than intended. Consider the sentence below and its revision (the modifier is underlined).
- INCORRECT: The jacket was just too small in the store.
The placement of the modifier in the store implies that the jacket was too small in the store. If the writer wants to convey that the jacket suddenly changed sizes when worn in other locations, then the modifier’s placement in the sentence is correct. If the modifier is intended to specify that the author is talking about the jacket in the store, then this modifier should be moved.
- Possible revision: The jacket in the store was just too small.
The following sentences contain either dangling or misplaced modifiers. Revise the sentences.
- Running for the bus, the rain started coming down in buckets and I got all wet.
- The couch was kind of ugly in the furniture store.
- Having searched and searched for Mr. Right, it started to seem like he didn’t exist.
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