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.
Generally, English places modifiers as close to the word (or group of words) they modify as possible. When modifiers are placed in positions that confuse the sentence’s meaning, they are either dangling or misplaced modifiers. Both are types of unclear modifiers.
Use these strategies to identify and eliminate unclear modifiers–i.e., dangling modifiers and 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 occur when the word, phrase, or clause has been separated in a sentence from the word it modifies. This separation causes confusion, leaving readers unsure what work the word, phrase, or clause is intended to be modified. Misplaced modifiers can be fixed by placing the modifying word/phrase/clause near the word it modifies.
- A modifier is said to be a dangling modifier when the word, phrase, or clause it modifies has been left out of the sentence.
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 because readers aren’t sure what the opening phrase refers to.