What is a modifier?

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes, strengthens, or clarifies another word (or group of words) in a sentence. When a modifier is placed in its proper position in a sentence, a sense of clarity is established for the reader.

What is a misplaced modifier?

A modifier may be considered misplaced when it is not in the correct position in the sentence in relation to the word (or words) being modified. Misplaced modifiers can weaken or twist the intended meaning of a sentence, thus creating a sense of ambiguity or absurdity.

Typical placement of modifiers:

  • Place the modifier as close as possible to the word (or words) being modified.
  • Place adjectives that modify nouns in front of the word (or words) being modified.
  • Place adverbs that modify a verb or verb phrase:
    • right before or just after the verb being modified, OR
    • at the beginning or end of the sentence.
  • Place words such as almost, even, just, nearly, only, or simply in front of the word (or words) being modified.
  • Do not create a split infinitive by placing a modifier between to + a verb. (e. g., replace to quickly move with to move quickly)
  • Do not place a modifier between the verb and the object being acted upon. (e. g., replace The dog ate quickly his food with The dog quickly ate his food.)

How can a misplaced modifier be re-placed correctly?

  • Identify the modifiers by circling them.
  • Draw an arrow to the word or words being modified.
  • Move the modifier closer to the word being modified.
  • Read the sentence aloud to check word flow and clarity of meaning.

Let’s look at an example:

Sentence with a misplaced modifier: The kitten took a nap in a padded basket with a collar around its neck.

  • To avoid the absurd implication that the basket has a neck with a collar around it, move the modifying phrase closer to kitten.

Sentence with a properly-placed modifier: The kitten with a collar around its neck took a nap in a padded basket.