Common Usage Dilemmas
Misplaced Modifiers: Lost and Found
You can lose your car keys, your temper, and even your head—but please, don't misplace your modifiers. It's as tacky as a pork chop at a bar mitzvah.
A misplaced modifier is just that: a phrase, clause, or word placed too far from the noun or pronoun it describes. As a result, the sentence fails to convey your exact meaning. But misplaced modifiers usually carry a double wallop: They often create confusion or imply something unintentionally funny. This is not a good thing when you want to make a competent impression with your writing. Here's an example of a misplaced modifier:
You Could Look It Up
A misplaced modifier is a phrase, clause, or word placed too far from the word or words it modifies.
As this sentence is written, it means that the sister, not the puppy, is named Fido. That's because the modifier “they call Fido” is in the wrong place in the sentence. To correct a misplaced modifier, move the modifier as close as possible to the word or phrase it is describing. Here's how the sentence should read:
It Says What?
Study this chart to see how a misplaced modifier can distort a writer's meaning. Then see how I moved the modifier so the sentence makes sense.
Sentence #1: The patient was referred to a psychologist with several emotional problems.
What the writer thinks it says: The patient has emotional problems.
What the sentence really says: The psychologist has emotional problems.
Correction: The patient with several emotional problems was referred to a psychologist.
Sentence #2: Sam found a letter in the mailbox that doesn't belong to her.
What the writer thinks it says: Sam found a letter that doesn't belong to her.
What the sentence really says: The mailbox doesn't belong to Sam.
Correction: Sam found a letter that doesn't belong to her in the mailbox.
Sentence #3: Two cars were reported stolen by the Farmingdale police yesterday.
What the writer thinks it says: The Farmingdale police reported two stolen cars.
What the sentence really says: The police stole the two cars.
Correction: Yesterday, the Farmingdale police reported that two cars were stolen.
Sentence #4: Please take time to look over the brochure that is enclosed with your family.
What the writer thinks it says: Look over the brochure with your family.
Quoth the Maven
To avoid these embarrassing sentence errors, place a modifier as close as possible to the word it modifies or describes. And do something about that tie, please.
What the sentence really says: The brochure is enclosed with your family.
Correction: Please take time to look over the enclosed brochure with your family.
Sentence #5: Luis had driven over with his wife, Chris, from their home in a Chevy for the basketball game.
What the writer thinks it says: Luis and Chris drove in their Chevy to the game.
What the sentence really says: Luis and Chris live in a Chevy.
Correction: Luis had driven over in a Chevy with his wife, Chris, from their home for the basketball game.
It's show time! To see if you've got the hang of writing sentences with correctly placed modifiers, rewrite each of the following bollixed-up sentences.
Did you get these nice clear revisions?
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.