Misplaced Modifier: Basic Definition and Guide

Modifiers describe nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. A misplaced modifier…

Modifiers describe nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. A misplaced modifier occurs when a phrase is moved from its original or intended position in the sentence and placed incorrectly.

What is a Misplaced Modifier?

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes or modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other elements in a sentence. In many cases, a modifier is misplaced, meaning that it is not in the correct position to convey the sentence’s meaning.

A misplaced modifier is a common sentence problem when phrases are used in the wrong case. Misplaced modifiers are usually too far or disconnected from the word they intend to modify. They are attached wrongly in the sentence, such that they modify a different word.

Common Examples of Misplaced Modifiers in Writing

A misplaced modifier is a grammatical error that occurs due to wrong placement of a word or phrase in a sentence. The common examples of misplaced modifiers are:

1. Adverb

A typical example of a misplaced modifier is an adverb. These are words that modify verbs and adjectives and are thus easily misplaced.

The adverb becomes a misplaced modifier when it modifies the verb in a sentence where it is supposed to modify the adjective. The sentence may sound correct, but it is grammatically wrong.

Misplaced modifier – Mary almost sang in the choir for four hours today.

Correct: Mary sang in the choir for almost four hours today.

The adverb ‘almost’ is meant to modify the adjective ‘four,’ not the verb ‘sang.’

2. Prepositional Phrases

Another common misplaced modifier is prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase; a noun clause headed by a preposition, modifies another noun or verb.

When modifying verbs, prepositional phrases must be next to them, so it doesn’t seem like they’re modifying another word.

Misplaced modifier – John saw a rabbit on the way to the Church.

CorrectOn the way to the Church, John saw a rabbit.

The first sentence suggests that a rabbit was on its way to the Church when John saw it. The second sentence implies that John was on his way to the Church when he saw a rabbit.

Misplaced Modifier Vs. Dangling Modifier

There is a simple distinction between dangling and misplaced modifiers. At their simplest, misplaced modifiers are so far away from the word they intend to modify that they modify another word.

On the other hand, the dangling modifier’s intended subject is absent from the sentence. As such, it modifies the wrong word or nothing at all.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Conclusion

A misplaced modifier is any word grammatically misplaced in a sentence so that it delivers the wrong message to the reader.

Here’s a helpful tip: move the misplaced modifier to the correct word if you can identify which word it is supposed to modify. This can give the sentence a more precise and concise meaning.

Misplaced Modifier: Basic Definition and Guide

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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