Edit for Modification Errors

Modification: in this bronze sculpture of a fisherman describing a fish to a boy Modification: in this bronze sculpture of a fisherman describing a fish to a boy

Dangling, misplaced, limiting, and squinting modifiers are common sentence-level errors.


Dangling Modifers

1. To check if you have a dangling modifier, read the opening phrase of your sentence. Check to see if it goes with the subject of the sentence. If it doesn’t, you have a dangling modifier.

Ex: Sprinkled with coriander, kids love these potatoes.

Opening phrase of the sentence: sprinkled with coriander

Subject of the sentence: kids

Check for a match: The kids are not what are sprinkled with coriander. The potatoes are! The subject and the opening phrase don’t go together. The phrase sprinkled with coriander is a dangling modifier.

Misplaced Modifiers

To check if you have a misplaced modifier, identify the parts of your sentence that modify other parts. If it’s not clear what part is being modified, you have a misplaced modifier. Misplacedmodifiers can be words or phrases. 

Ex: Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on a train on the back of an envelope.

Sentence parts that modify other parts: On a train is where Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address. On the back of an envelope is where the Gettysburg Address was written.

Check if it’s clear what parts are modified: On the back of an envelope seems to describe where the train is, not where the Gettysburg Address was written. Also, visualizing the sentence yields a funny picture of the Gettysburg Address written in tiny letters on a train small enough to fit on an envelope. Because it’s not clear what is being modified, the phrase on the back of an envelope is a misplaced modifier.

Typical Modification Errors

  • 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 replaced 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.