According to Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell in the sixth edition of Writing First, “A modifier is a word or word group that identifies or describes another word or word group in a sentence.” Modifiers can include the present participle of a verb (-ing) or the past participle of a verb (-ed).
A common mistake when using modifiers is misplacing them, which in turn modifies or describes the wrong word or word group.
Misplaced modifier examples
Incorrect: Crying on the examination table, the doctor gave the small child his vaccine.
This is incorrect because it implies that the doctor was crying on the examination table, when it was the child who was crying.
Correct: The doctor gave the small child crying on the examination table his vaccine.
The modifier now correctly describes the child as crying, not the doctor.
Incorrect: Lydia fed the pigs wearing her raincoat.
Correct: Wearing her raincoat, Lydia fed the pigs.
Incorrect: Dressed in a flowing gown, everyone watched the celebrity enter the room.
Correct: Everyone watched the celebrity, dressed in a flowing gown, enter the room.
Another common mistake when using modifiers is having a dangling modifier. This occurs when the word that is being modified is not actually included in the sentence.
Dangling modifier examples
Incorrect: Using the Pythagorean Theorem, the math problem was easily solved.
Did the math problem use the theorem? Who did?
Correct: Using the Pythagorean Theorem, Wendy easily solved the math problem.
This version is correct because Wendy was the one who used the theorem.
Incorrect: Working through the night, the report was finished in time for class.
Correct: Working through the night, Jeremy finished the report in time for class.
Incorrect: Having finished the essay, a new Facebook status was uploaded.
Correct: Having finished the essay, Sandra uploaded a new Facebook status.
A special thanks to Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell’s Writing First, published by Bedford/St. Martin’s in 2015.