Mistakes with Modifiers
A modifierA word or phrase that changes or specifies the meaning of another word, usually the subject or the verb. Example: The red ball quickly bounced over the fence. The adjective red modifies the subject, the ball. Also, the adverb quickly modifies the verb bounced. is a word, phraseA set of words that express an idea. A phrase may or may not form a complete sentence., or clauseA group of words in a sentence that contains a subject and a predicate. that modifies, or describes, a thing or an action. Here are some examples of modifiers:
In the sentenceA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!). above, the modifier Elected by a landslide describes the mayor, while the modifier from both parties describes the voters.
In the sentence above, the modifier by a majority of the city council members describes how the mayor was endorsed.
In the sentence above, the modifier from a local news program describes the reporter.
In the sentence above, the modifier enthusiastically describes how the mayor discussed her plans, while the modifier to rebuild the community describes the mayor’s plans.
By giving descriptive details about things and actions, modifiers add interest and liven up sentences. However, when modifiers are used incorrectly, sentences may sound silly or confusing.
Look back at the examples above. You can see that the modifiers are placed immediately before or after what the modifiers describe. Modifiers must appear directly before or after the word or phrase that is described; when modifiers are located elsewhere, readers can become confused. The most common mistakes writers make with modifiers generally fall into one of three categories: misplaced, dangling, and squinting.
A misplaced modifierA modifier gives extra information about a word. A misplaced modifier occurs when a sentence is written so that the modifier appears to refer to the wrong word. For example, the sentence She rode a blue girl's bicycle to school seems to say that the girl was blue instead of the bicycle. occurs when the modifier describes a word in the sentence other than the one it is intended to describe.
Incorrect: Wandering around the desert, the sun beat down on the hiker.
In the sentence above, the modifier is Wandering around the desert and is intended to describe the hiker, but because it is closer to the sun, the reader can become confused because it sounds as if the sun is wandering around the desert.
Misplaced modifiers are easy to correct. You can move the modifier so that it comes before or after the word it describes.
Correct: The sun beat down on the hiker wandering around the desert.
Sometimes, it is necessary to rearrange and/or edit the sentence to correct the misplaced modifier.
Also correct: Wandering around the desert, the hiker sweltered beneath the sun.
Here is another example of a misplaced modifier.
Incorrect: Towering over the city, the tourists stared up at the skyscrapers.
In the sentence above, Towering over the city is a modifier intended to describe the skyscrapers, but since it is closer to the tourists, readers have to figure this out on their own. It also makes it sound as if huge tourists are towering over the city, which changes the meaning of the sentence (in a funny way). Moving the modifier to the end of the sentence corrects the mistake.
Correct: The tourists stared up at the skyscrapers towering over the city.
A misplaced modifier could appear at the end of a sentence, too, as in the following example.
Incorrect: I saw a raccoon driving home from work.
In this sentence, the modifier driving home from work is placed so that it describes the raccoon, and as adorable or horrifying as a driving raccoon seems, it is unlikely that one would drive anywhere. To correct the mistake, you can move the modifier to the beginning of the sentence.
Correct: Driving home from work, I saw a raccoon.
A dangling modifierA modifier gives extra information about a subject. A dangling modifier occurs when that subject is missing from a sentence. For example, in the sentence Driving home, the roads were slippery, the phrase driving home is left dangling and almost seems to suggest that the roads were behind the wheel of the car instead of a person. occurs when the modifier describes a word that is missing from the sentence.
Incorrect: Feeling reasonably confident in his performance, his test was handed to the proctor.
In the sentence above, the modifier is feeling reasonably confident in his performance and is meant to describe the person handing in the test, but since that person is not named in the sentence, the reader can become confused. The phrase technically modifies the test, yet an inanimate object, such as a test, obviously cannot feel emotions.
Correcting a dangling modifier requires more than simply rearranging the sentence. To correct a sentence with a dangling modifier, you need to add an objectA noun or pronoun in a sentence that receives the action performed by the subject. Example: The man ate the hamburger. In this case, the subject is the man and the object is the hamburger. for the modifier to describe.
The following sentences show two ways to correct the dangling modifier.
Correct: Feeling reasonably confident in his performance, Henry handed his test to the proctor.
Also correct: Henry, feeling reasonably confident in his performance, handed his test to the proctor.
Remember that the modifier needs to be next to the thing or action the modifier describes.
The following sentence has a dangling modifier.
Incorrect: By following a budget, her expenses decreased and her savings increased.
In the sentence above, By following a budget is the modifier that seems to describe her expenses. But this doesn't make sense, because expenses can't follow a budget. The dangling modifier can be corrected by adding a subjectIn grammar, a part of speech that refers to the “doer” in the sentence (who or what). A subject is usually a person, place or thing..
Correct: By following a budget, Marissa decreased her expenses and increased her savings.
A squinting modifierA type of misplaced modifier that could refer to more than one word or phrase in a sentence. The modifier is said to be squinting because it could "look" at the words on either side of it. For example, in the sentence Paul told Mary after work he would go to the store, the phrase after work is squinting because it is not clear whether this modifier refers to when Paul told Mary or when he would go to the store. happens when the modifier could describe more than one word in the sentence.
Incorrect: The teacher told the students when the class was over there would be a study session.
The modifier in the sentence above is when the class was over. It is unclear, however, whether the modifier describes the moment at which the teacher told his students, or whether it describes the time at which the study session would occur.
To correct a squinting modifier, move the modifier closer to the word it is intended to modify. In some cases, you may need to rewrite the sentence entirely.
Correct: When the class was over, the teacher told the students there would be a study session.
This revision makes the meaning clear. The modifier describes the moment at which the teacher gave the information to his students.
Below is a revision that has a different meaning.
Also correct: The teacher told the students there would be a study session when the class was over.
In the revision above, the modifier clearly describes the moment at which the study session would be held.
Below is a sentence with a squinting modifier.
Incorrect: Students who organize their time often find they have more free time to do what they want.
In the sentence above, the reader can't tell if the modifier often describes how students organize their time or if it describes what happens as a result of them organizing their time. This mistake can be corrected by moving the modifier.
Correct: Students who organize their time find they often have more free time to do what they want.+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
Mistakes with modifiers can create confusion for your readers. Incorrectly placed modifiers make it more difficult for readers to understand your meaning, which makes them work harder than they should when reading your writing.
When you are in college, you may notice that these kinds of mistakes can have a negative effect on your grades. Making these kinds of mistakes in a business setting could make your boss or colleagues misunderstand what you have written or think that you are careless.
Here is a paragraphA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation. from an essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. about how to create a budget. Take note of the misplaced, dangling, and squinting modifiers, which have been underlined. Also note the thing or action that is modified—or should be modified—by the word or phrase. The sentences have been numbered for reference.
(1) Many students are unsure when developing a monthly budget about how to begin. (2)There is a simple process fortunately that is easy to follow. (3) Including the money you earn from work and the money you receive from other sources, the first step is to find out your exact income. (4) Other sources might be scholarships, loans, or gifts. (5) Once you figure out your income, you know each month how much money is available for you to spend. (6) Without leaving anything out, then your expenses need to be listed. (7) Common expenses include food, clothes, housing, transportation, childcare, utilities, tuition, books, and entertainment for college students. (8) If your income is greater than your expenses, you will be able to save money. (9) However, if you find that your expenses are greater than your income, you may either cut back on expenses or find a way to earn a higher income.
Here is a list of the sentence numbers and an explanation of whether the sentence is OK or if it contains any incorrect modifiers and their corrections:
Now notice how the mistakes have been corrected in the revised paragraph below.
When developing a monthly budget, many students are unsure about how to begin. Fortunately, there is a simple process that is easy to follow. The first step is to find out your exact income, including the money you earn from work and the money you receive from other sources. Other sources might be scholarships, loans, or gifts. Once you figure out your income, you know how much money is available for you to spend each month. Without leaving anything out, you need to list all of your expenses. For college students, common expenses include food, clothes, housing, transportation, childcare, utilities, tuition, books, and entertainment. If your income is greater than your expenses, you will be able to save money. However, if you find that your expenses are greater than your income, you may either cut back on expenses or find a way to earn a higher income.
Here is a paragraph from a business memoA short written message from one person to another or to a group of persons, usually containing business information. that contains incorrectly placed modifiers. The sentences have been numbered for reference. First, look at each sentence and determine if it is OK as is or if it contains an incorrectly placed modifier. Then, indicate if the modifier is misplaced, dangling, or squinting. Also identify the thing or action that is modified—or should be modified—by the word.
(1) This memo is to alert employees to updates in the employee manual that were recently made. (2) By accessing it online, the revised manual may be viewed on the company website. (3) Employees may also obtain the updated manual from the Human Resources department. (4) Attached to this memo, employees will find an acknowledgement form. (5) Please note that all employees must sign the acknowledgement form to show that they have read and will comply with the terms in the employee manual within two weeks from today's date. (6) Failing to sign the acknowledgement form, notifications will be sent to supervisors of employees. (7) Employees should contact their supervisors with questions about the manual.
Misplaced modifier: that were recently made. It is modifying manual; it should modify updates.
Dangling modifier: By accessing it online. It lacks a subject to modify. It should modify employees, which is not in the sentence.
Sentence 3 is fine as is and does not require any changes.
Misplaced modifier: Attached to this memo. It is modifying employees; it should modify acknowledgement form.
Squinting modifier: within two weeks from today's date. The reader is unable to tell if this describes when the employees must sign the form or comply with the rules. It should refer to when employees must sign the form.
Dangling modifier: Failing to sign the acknowledgement form. The reader is unable to tell who is failing to sign the form. It lacks a subject to modify. It should modify employees, which is not in the sentence.
Misplaced modifier: with questions about the manual. It is modifying supervisors; it should modify employees.
Now revise the paragraph to correct the mistakes.
This memo is to alert employees to recent updates in the employee manual. By accessing it online, employees may view the revised manual on the company website. Employees may also obtain the updated manual from the Human Resources department. Employees will find an acknowledgement form attached to this memo. Please note that all employees must sign the acknowledgement form within two weeks of today's date to show that they have read and will comply with the terms in the employee manual. Notifications will be sent to supervisors of employees who fail to sign the acknowledgement form. Employees who have questions about the manual should contact their supervisors.
How can mistakes with modifiers confuse readers?
Mistakes with modifiers confuse readers because they can't tell what is being described. Sometimes this confusion seems silly, as in the example of the sentence with the raccoon. That sentence has a modifier describing the raccoon instead of the person, so it sounds like the raccoon is driving.
What is the difference in the meaning between the following sentences?
In the first and second sentences, the modifier at the last convention describes when the decision was made. In the last sentence, the modifier at the last convention describes when the different system would be implemented.
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