A modifier is either an adjective or an adverb. If there is no object for it to modify, it is said to be “dangling” or “misplaced.”
A dangling modifier usually has a word or phrase that modifies nothing in particular in the rest of the sentence, or often seems to modify something that is implied but not actually present in the sentence.
Example: Having looked everywhere for my LEGO, the brick I wanted couldn’t be found.
Misplaced modifiers usually fall in the wrong place in a sentence; it may be awkward, confusing, or unintentionally funny. Misplaced modifiers also include longer adverbs that disrupt the flow of the sentence and limiting adverbs (almost, even, exactly, nearly, only, etc.)
- Reluctantly, the dog was given away to a neighbor.
What in this sentence is reluctant: the dog, the neighbor, or the original owner?
If the sentence is rewritten where the adjective, “reluctantly” is next to “dog” or “neighbor” the sentence would be much more clear.
- As a young boy, his grandmother told stories of her years as a teacher.
Here, the modifier “as a young boy” is ambiguous because it could be referencing either the grandmother or “his.” It requires the reader to puzzle out the meaning of the sentence. Clarifying this sentence would require revision to specify the boy.
- He served the men on paper plates.
The modifiers make this sentence ambiguous because it is unclear what is being served and what is on the plate.