Modifiers can add greater detail and clarification to sentences, which is usually a great help to readers.
However, when used incorrectly, modifiers can actually cause confusion and do more harm than good. That’s why using modifiers properly—and avoiding the dreaded “dangling modifier”—is so important.
What Are Modifiers?
The word “modify” is a verb that means to change or alter something slightly.
In grammar, a modifier is a word that modifies—or changes by adding to—another word. Modifiers can qualify, clarify, or add emphasis to another term, so they usually appear as adjectives or adverbs.
More than one modifier can be applied to the same word, as in the following example:
The slender girl wearing a crimson hat got on the subway.
In this example, the word “slender” and the phrase “wearing a crimson hat” modify the term “girl.” They describe what she looks like and what she was doing, so she’s not just a “girl.”
You’ll find more examples of modifiers, and how they add greater detail to sentences, below.
Examples of Modifiers
I have three adorable Corgis.
“Three” and “adorable” modify the noun “corgis.” They tell us how many there are and that they are adorable.
She will arrive tomorrow.
The adverbial modifier “tomorrow” modifies the verb “arrive.”
She sprang from the bed and dressed hurriedly; she had only five minutes to get ready.
“From the bed” modifies the verb “sprang,” because it tells us from where she sprang; “hurriedly” modifies the verb “dressed” because it tells us how she dressed; and “only five” tells us that her time is short.
Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
Misplaced or dangling modifiers can lead to confusion about the subject being modified.
For example, in the sentence “I walked my dog in pajamas this morning,” it is unclear whether the phrase “in pajamas” is modifying “I” or “my dog.”
There’s quite a difference between me wearing pajamas to walk my dog and me walking my dog, who is wearing pajamas.
The sentence could be rewritten for clarity as. “I walked my dog while wearing pajamas this morning.”
Let’s look at am example of a dangling modifier:
After reading the original transcript, the article remains unconvincing.
Who read the original transcript, and who finds it unconvincing? The sentence can be rewritten for clarity like the example below:
After reading the original transcript, I find the article unconvincing.
Avoid Ambiguity by Using Modifiers Wisely
Ambiguity, or unnecessary vagueness and confusion, is a common consequence of misplaced or dangling modifiers.
You can use proofreading software like Grammarly to check for ambiguities and dangling modifiers so your writing stays clear and impactful.
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