A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that adds detail to, clarifies, or changes meaning in a sentence. Modifiers infuse writing with description and life. To work effectively, modifiers must be placed properly in a sentence. If the noun is separated from and doesn’t appear next to the modifier, the error is a misplaced modifier; if the noun is completely left out of the sentence, it creates a dangling modifier. In either case, confusion can arise for the reader.
Here are a few examples:
Dangling modifier: “Reaching for a fork, the water spilled.” The subject, who is “reaching for the fork,” is missing, making it seem like the “water” is “reaching for a fork.” To fix this dangling modifier, the sentence should be revised to include the subject/ noun, “While reaching for a fork, she spilled the water.” Now, the modifier “reaching for a fork” is placed properly next to the noun it describes, “she.”
Misplaced modifier: “Walking on the wet sidewalk, Ted’s new shoes slipped.” Since the modifier “walking on the wet sidewalk” comes before “Ted’s new shoes,” the sentence reads as if the “shoes” were “walking” on their own. The sentence should be revised to read, “Walking on the wet sidewalk, Ted slipped in his new shoes.” (Now, the modifier “walking on the wet sidewalk” comes before “Ted,” the noun it describes.
Dangling modifiers and misplaced modifier errors appear frequently on the SAT and other standardized grammar tests, so be sure to share this post with the students in your life!