Misplaced Modifiers – A Source of Entertainment

Let’s start with a quick definition:

 A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies 0r describes.  A dangling modifier is one that is not immediately followed by the subject which it is modifying.

Any writer knows that modifiers can enhance and clarify the subject of the sentence. A misplaced modifier can also turn an otherwise intelligent memo into a string of gibberish, becoming an unintended source of endless entertainment at the expense of the writer.dog with umbrella

Here are a few examples.

She went to the store in the rain to buy food for her dog with the blue umbrella.

Now surely her dog was not the one with the blue umbrella. Or was it? Completely re-writing this sentence is the best way to fix it.

Because of the rain, she took her blue umbrella with her when she went to town to buy food for her dog.

When you begin a sentence with a modifying clause, then the subject should immediately follow. If not, you could give your sentence an unintended meaning.

While taking the long way home, a raccoon ran in front of the car.racoon drive by


Who was taking the long way home, surely not the raccoon? Giving the sentence a better subject is the easy fix, so your reader isn’t left with the wrong idea.

While we were taking the long way home, a raccoon ran in front of our car.

Avoiding passive verbs is the easiest way to steer clear of misplaced or dangling modifiers. In our small town paper, I’ve read similar items to this in the police blotter column.

A house on Main Street was reported broken into by the police yesterday.

Did the police really break into that house on Main Street? How awful!  Eliminating that passive voice is the fix.

Somebody broke into a house on Main Street yesterday, the police report.

In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by an unseen or unknown agent or object. This is great when you don’t really have all the information or when you want to call attention to the action.  The bill was approved. The driver was cited.

Putting the modifier as close as possible to its subject is the easiest solution.

With their brightly colored feathers, people are drawn to keep parrots as pets.

Feathered people. Who knew?

With their brightly colored feathers, parrots make attractive pets.

Be careful when writing recipes or instructions.

After chilling in the refrigerator for 5 hours, you should be able to eat the salad.

I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in chilling in any refrigerator.  That’s not my idea of a good time.

Chill the salad in the refrigerator for five hours before serving.

And here’s my favorite.

She recognized the man across the street with the cane named Bob

A cane named Bob? How would you fix this sentence?

You can read more about the passive voice here at a great website called A Guide to Grammar & Writing. Check it out.  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm

My thanks to the artist, Cassidy Hollan for her illustrations. I can put you in touch with her if you’d like to see more of her illustrations.


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