A Grammar Guide to Placement of Modifiers

The placement of modifiers determines how it interacts with the word it modifies. It will help to eliminate confusion for the readers, improve the readability of your text, and convey the meaning better.

What Is a Modifier?

In the context of grammar, A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies or alters other words in a sentence. More precisely, modifiers can either be adjectives or adverbs. They are typically written next to the noun they modify to emphasize the meaning.

Conventionally, adjectives are called pre-modifiers as they come before a noun. On the other hand, adverbs are known as post-modifiers as they come after the words or verbs they modify.

It’s important to identify which one is used because it can provide essential clues about how the clause is structured.

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Rules for Placement of Modifiers

Different modifiers can be used to enhance a sentence and make the meaning clearer to the readers. However, in the pursuit of clarifying the statement, you can often confuse the audience if the modifiers are misused. Let’s look at the rules and correct placement of modifiers in English grammar.

1. Place modifiers in close proximity to the words they modify

When modifiers are positioned too far away from the words they modify, the meaning of the sentence is altered. The misplaced modifier then creates different possible meanings of the same sentence.

Confusing Sentence: The waiter served food to the guests that were cold.

Problem: The sentence is confusing if the food was served cold or the guests seemed cold and unfriendly.

Clear Sentence: The waiter served cold food to the guests.

2. The modifier at the start of a sentence must modify the subject

A misplaced modifier error will occur if you use a modifier at the beginning of a sentence that modifies something other than the subject.

Confusing Sentence: Wearing the boot, the snake could not bite him.

Problem: The sentence sounds as if the snake is wearing the boots, which is not the intended meaning

Clear Sentence: Because he was wearing the boot, the snake couldn’t bite him.

3. The modifier should modify a word or phrase included in the sentence

The word or phrase that the modifier alters must be clearly and correctly positioned in the sentence. Otherwise, it will result in a dangling modifier error.

Confusing Sentence: While analyzing recent cases, a new type of virus mutation was found.

Problem: In the sentence,it’s unclear who was analyzing the recent cases or who found the new type of virus mutation.

Clear Sentence: While analyzing the recent cases, the scientists found a new type of virus mutation.


Modifiers should always be placed next to the words they modify to ensure the coherence and clarity of meaning.

They make statements more precise by describing the antecedent, modifying it, or qualifying it. When placing modifiers, it is imperative to have a good understanding of the rules for their placement.

That way, you can make sure the modifiers in your sentences obey those rules and bring about the desired effects.

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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