Modifiers need to clearly point to the words that they are describing in a sentence; otherwise, sentences may be illogical. Modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the word that they are describing; if not, the reader may have difficulty knowing which word in the sentence should be modified.
A modifier is a word or group of words that describe other words in a sentence. Modifiers can either be adjectives or adverbs and can be phrases, dependent clauses, or single words.
Writers have problems using modifiers when they forget to mention the word that the modifier is supposed to describe. When this happens, it is called a dangling modifier. To avoid making this mistake, be sure to proofread your paper.
- Before leaving for work, the dog should get a bowl of food.
- Before leaving for work modifies the dog, which makes the sentence illogical. The dog is not leaving for work! It is easy to correct this problem.
- Before leaving for work, you should get the dog a bowl of food.
Another common error is not placing the modifier near the word that it describes.
- While still a girl, my father and I went to the fair.
- While still a girl modifies my father, making it sound as though my father were once a girl! To correct this problem, clarify that I went to the fair with my father while I was still a girl.
- While still a girl, I went to the fair with my father.
To practice using modifiers correctly, revise the following sentences. Misplaced modifiers are in italics.
- Racing across the field, I saw the forward kick the ball into the goal to win the game in the last few seconds.
- While at the basketball game, my mother did her grocery shopping.
- Smelling burnt and having a blackened crust, I decided to bake another pie for the party.
- Receiving an A on her term paper, Lauren’s grades were improved.
- The school now has a late bus for students leaving at 6:00.
For further practice, create your own sentences using the following modifiers:
- when buying your first car,
- upon arriving at the train station,
- working diligently on the project,
- running to catch the baby,
- when only seven years old,
Dillingham, William B., and Floyd C. Watkins. Practical English Handbook. 10th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Watkins, Floyd C., William B. Dillingham, John T. Hiers, and Matthew G. Hearn. Practical English Workbook. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Warriner, John E. English Composition and Grammar. Benchmark Edition. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.
Created By Sarah E. Hervey