Sentence Modifiers: Know Their Place, and Don’t Leave Them Hanging

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Writing Tips | 0 comments

Want to write something totally unbelievable? It’s really easy if you use dangling or misplaced modifiers. Any word or phrase can be a sentence modifier, as all it has to do is describe an object or idea. If you misplace those modifiers, you can really confuse readers. What about dangling them? Well, that’s like writing the stuff of comedic geniuses.


What’s a Sentence Modifier, Anyway?

Essentially, a sentence modifier is a dependent word or phrase that gives some type of description to an element in the structure of a sentence. In the clause, “He gave the blue sticker to Kim,” the word “blue” is a sentence modifier and its object is “sticker.” It’s pretty easy to spot the modifier and the object, right? In good writing, modifiers will be clearly linked to their objects. In sloppy writing, however, sentence modifiers are confusing and sometimes downright hilarious.


Misplaced Modifiers: Wait, What?

sentence modifiers

A misplaced modifier can involve adjectives, verbs and phrases that have been improperly separated from their objects, leading to ridiculous sentences such as:

Confusing: On his way home from school, Tommy found a blue woman’s jacket.

Confusing: We walked through the park we found slowly.

Confusing: The woman bought the car from the salesman with the leather steering wheel.

Was the woman who owned the jacket actually blue? Did we find the park slowly or walk slowly? Did the salesman have a leather steering wheel attached to himself, like a third arm or something?

No, no and no.


Fix It

The great thing about misplaced modifiers is that they can be resolved simply by moving the words to a different part of the sentence. Here are some examples of sentence modifiers that work:

Clear: On his way home from school, Tommy found a woman’s blue jacket.

Clear: We walked slowly through the park we found.

Clear: The woman bought the car with the leather steering wheel from the salesman.

When proofing your writing, simply make sure any descriptive words, phrases or clauses are placed next to the object they modify.


Dangling Modifiers: Funny, But Wrong

misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers

Much like a misplaced modifier, a dangling modifier is a word, clause or phrase that does not accurately describe the object it appears to modify. That’s because the word or phrase being modified is not clearly mentioned in the sentence. The biggest difference between a dangling and a misplaced modifier is that the former cannot simply be moved to another part of the sentence to be corrected because more information is needed. In most cases, a dangling modifier will appear at the beginning of the sentence, like these examples of sentence modifiers gone wrong:

Wrong: Oozing through the walls, Jenny was terrified.

Wrong: Walking down the street, a four-car accident happened.

Wrong: Contained in Tupperware, Max was excited to have a gift for his children.

Was Jenny oozing through the walls? Did the car crash sprout legs and walk? Was Max actually inside a plastic container?

No, no and no. Unless you are writing a sci-fi novel in which humans liquefy and inanimate objects come to life, these sentence modifiers need some re-working.


Fix It

Fret not, content writers, for there are a few easy ways to strip your writing of any dangling modifiers.

Strategy One: Change the modifier into an introductory clause, including its object:

Wrong: Oozing through the walls, Jenny was terrified.

Right: Because the slime was oozing through the walls, Jenny was terrified.

What is oozing through the walls? Why, the slime, of course!

Strategy Two: Make the doer of the action the subject of the main clause:

Wrong: Walking down the street, a four-car accident happened.

Right: Walking down the street, I saw a four-car accident happen.

Now I get it; I was walking down the street when I witnessed an accident.

Strategy Three: Take both phrases of the sentence and make them one:

Wrong: Contained in Tupperware, Max was excited to have a gift for his children.

Right: Max was excited to give his children the cookies contained in Tupperware.

Thank goodness Max got out of the Tupperware! I can’t imagine that it’s easy to breathe in an airtight container.


Sentence Modifiers: Got It?

understand sentence modifiers

There are some pretty hilarious examples of these grammar errors out there, so keep your eye out for them. Let us know your favorite sentence modifiers in the comments section below!

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