Modifier Problems: Find & Fix the Errors

Sometimes modifiers can also create havoc — adding words to the sentence that don’t belong but are still supposed to belong. Modifier problems can be fixed by rewording the sentence, removing the modifier, or moving it to the correct position in the sentence.

What Are Modifier Problems in Grammar?

A modifier is a word that describes, limits, modifies, qualifies, or includes the noun that it follows. When done well, it creates a thoughtful sentence that calls the attention of the readers. It helps to emphasize the meaning of the text and express emotion in your writing.

When the same modifier is used incorrectly, it creates ambiguous sentences. They can mislead the readers, convey a different meaning, and create unintentional humor as well. The error often relates to the wrong object in a sentence. It could also mean using a plural verb instead of a singular verb or using the wrong adjective and adverb form.

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Types of Modifier Errors in Writing

Most of the errors that cause confusion or ambiguity in a sentence are modifiers. A modifier error is when a writer incorrectly modifies a word or a phrase.

When you place a modifier where it doesn’t belong, the sentence becomes confusing, awkward, and sometimes humorous. You must identify the types of modifier errors in your writing and learn to fix them. The three types of modifier errors are as follows.

Misplaced Modifier

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase incorrectly positioned in a sentence. As a result, it modifies a word that it is not supposed to modify or describe. Any modifier can be misplaced in a sentence, be it an adjective, adverb, an adverbial clause, or phrase. The three types of misplaced modifiers are as follows.

1. Misplaced Adjectives are incorrectly detached from the nouns they modify, distorting the intended meaning.

Example: We had a hot bowl of soup in the evening.

Problem: The misplaced adjective hot is modifying the noun bowl.

Corrected: We had a bowl of hot soup in the evening.

2. Placement of adverbs can alter the meaning of a sentence.

Example 1: Just Laura returned from the party.

The sentence means only Laura returned from the party, no one else.

Example 2: Laurajust returned from the party.

The sentence means Laura has returned from the party now.

3. Misplaced phrases can make a sentence sound awkward and have an illogical meaning.

Example: The shopkeeper sold the red dress to Jenny with ribbons.

Problem: The misplaced phrase with ribbons is modifying the wrong noun ‘Jenny.’

Corrected: The shopkeeper sold the red dress with ribbons to Jenny.

Dangling Modifier

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase not clearly associated with the word it modifies. It is either connected with a word other than the one intended or with no word at all.

Example: Walking down the valley, the mountains shadowed her.

Problem: It sounds as if the mountains are walking down the valley.

Corrected: Walking down the valley, she was shadowed by the mountains.

Squinting Modifier

A squinting modifier is the one that creates ambiguity in a sentence by describing two things at a time. The sentence can be interpreted in two different ways leaving the readers confused about the meaning.

Example: People who work all night frequently suffer from sleeping disorders.

Problem: The sentence could mean that all people who work at night suffer from sleeping disorders. Or, the people who work at night a lot have sleeping disorders.

Corrected 1: People who frequently work all night suffer from sleeping disorders.

Corrected 2: People who work all night frequently sufferfrom sleeping disorders.


Modifier problems are errors that require the reader to work a little harder to make sense of what they’re reading.

Because they’re frustrating and make writing difficult, these problems should be taken care of immediately to avoid negative feedback on writing.

There are a few different ways to tackle these issues. This article is a quick guide to brush up on your understanding of modifier errors in English grammar.

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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