Modifiers, Modification


Dangling, misplaced, and limiting modifiers are three common types of modification errors in Standard Written English.

Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that describe another word (or group of words) in a sentence. Modifiers change the meaning of the sentence by adding details and qualifying information. Generally, English places modifiers as close to the word (or group of words) they describe as possible.

When modifiers are placed in their proper position in a sentence, they add details and qualifying information that help readers and listeners better interpret the writer, speaker, knowledge worker’s text.

When modifiers are placed in positions that confuse the sentence’s meaning, they may be called an unclear or awkward.

Related Concepts: Clarity; Edit for Unclear Modifiers


Dangling Modifers

Dangling modifiers happen when the opening phrase of a sentence should share the sentence’s subject, but doesn’t. This disconnect can make the sentence confusing or even humorous.

Examples:

  • By using electric cars, the number of pollutants in the air is being reduced
  • Running to class, my cell phone began to vibrate.
  • After submitting my homework after the deadline, the teacher penalized my grade.
  • When editing, the lack of variance in my sentence structure creates a simplistic tone.

Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced Modifiers happen when a phrase intended to modify one part of a sentence seems to modify a different part instead. Misplaced Modifiers may result in some pretty humorous misinterpretations:

Examples:

  • The kitten took a nap in a padded basket with a collar around its neck.
  • The teacher tried to explain modification to a student that was unclear, dangling, or misplaced.

Misplaced Limiting Modifiers

At first, almost, exactly, hardly, just, merely, nearly, simply only—these sorts of words limit the meaning of another word, phrase, or clause in the sentence. Thus, they may be referred to as Limiting Modifiers.

Examples:

  • Only I am willing to work with him. (Others won’t work with him).
  • I only want to work with him. (I’d refer to work with him).
  • I want only him to work with me. (I’ll only work with him)

Limiting Modifers work well when they are positioned before the word they are modifying. Problems arise when these words are separated from the words they modify.

Related Readings