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Misplaced Modifiers

A modifier is a phrase or a clause that describes something. A misplaced modifier, therefore, is one that describes the wrong item in a sentence, often creating an illogical statement.
 
Note: As a general rule, a modifier should be placed as close as possible to what it modifies.

 

Example

Following are some useful tips for protecting your person and property from the FBI.

As written, the sentence implies that the FBI is a threat to your person and property. To correct the sentence put the modifier from the FBI next to the word it modifies, tips:

Following are some useful tips from the FBI for protecting your person and property.

 

Example

I saw the senators debating while watching television.

As written, the sentence implies that the senators were debating and watching television at the same time. To improve the sentence, put the modifier while watching television next to the word it modifies, I:

While watching television, I saw the senators debating.

The sentence can be made even clearer and more direct without the modifier:

I saw the senators debating on television.

 

Note: When a phrase begins a sentence, make sure that it modifies the subject of the sentence.

 

Example

Coming around the corner, a few moments passed before I could recognize my old home.

As worded, the sentence implies that the moments were coming around the corner. The sentence can be corrected as follows:

As I came around the corner, a few moments passed before I could recognize my old home.

or

Coming around the corner, I paused a few moments before I could recognize my old home.

 
Example

When at summer camp, my family moved.

As worded, the sentence implies that the family was at summer camp. The sentence can be corrected as follows:

When I was at summer camp, my family moved.

 

Note: When a prepositional phrase begins a sentence, make sure that it modifies the true subject of the phrase.

 

This error is easy to miss.
 
Example

As the top programmer, I feel that only Steve can handle this project.

Who is the top programmer in this sentence, I or Steve? Since only Steve can handle the project, it’s likely that he is the top programmer. The sentence can be corrected as follows:

As the top programmer, only Steve can handle this project.

or

I feel that as the top programmer only Steve can handle this project.

 

Note: When a verbal phrase ends a sentence, make sure that it cannot modify more than one idea in the main clause.

This error can be rather subtle.
 
Example

Oddly, the senator known to be a strong closer performed poorly in the final two debates, causing a drop in his poll numbers.

There are two conflicting ideas expressed in the main clause of this sentence: the senator is a strong closer and he did poorly in the final debates. As written, it is not clear which one caused the drop in his poll numbers (though logically the drop was caused by his poor performance). The sentence can be made clearer as follows:

Though known to be a strong closer, the senator’s poor performance in the final two debates caused his poll numbers to drop.

or

The senator’s poor performance in the final two debates caused his poll numbers to drop. Oddly, he is known to be a strong closer.

Redundant Modifiers

Be careful not to modify a word with a word that means the same thing.
 
Example

The old heirlooms are priceless.

By definition, heirlooms (valuables handed down from generation to generation) are old. The sentence can be corrected by dropping the word “old”:

The heirlooms are priceless.





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