Misplaced Modifiers

Mar 16, 2008 | Grammar and Usage, Proofreading, Punctuation

Misplaced Modifiers

Did you know that unassuming little misplaced modifiers in sentences actually have the power to run people off the road while driving, cause them to choke on their sandwiches, or even cause fits of hysterical laughter? Talk about powerful! Don’t let their harmless appearance fool you. One little misplaced modifier can turn a simple hand-lettered sign or billboard into an Internet-cruising joke in no time flat.

Confused? Take a look at these funny examples of misplaced modifiers:

Sign posted at a Moscow hotel:

You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian composers, artists, and writers are buried daily, except on Thursdays. (Gee, it’s a good thing we don’t live there!)

At an office:

For those who have children and don’t know it, there is a daycare on the first floor. (Must be some pretty quiet kids.)

Misplaced modifiers can also create some interesting mental pictures:

Pizza was given to the teenagers that had pepperoni and olives on them. (I’d like to see some teenagers with sausage and mushrooms on them.)

This summer, I stood knee-deep in the river and caught a fish without waders. (It would be fun to catch a fish that wasn’t wearing clothes, wouldn’t it?)

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Let’s go back and make sure we all understand the function of a modifier in a sentence, and then we can get back to making fun of its improper usage.

What is a modifier? A modifier is a group of words that describes or gives additional information about another word (or words) in a sentence.

What is a misplaced modifier?  A misplaced modifier is a modifier placed incorrectly within the sentence so that it ends up describing (or modifying) the wrong word(s). For example:

Correct: I like okra when fried.

Misplaced modifier: When fried, I like okra.

The second sentence gives the impression that I like okra only after ingesting drugs and/or alcohol.

Correct: The back tire went flat while I was driving to work.

Misplaced modifier: While driving to work, the back tire went flat.

The second sentence gives us a mental picture of a tire driving to work!

Humorous or confusing examples of misplaced modifiers often circulate through email, and real-life examples are everywhere, especially if you’re looking for them. Who hasn’t questioned themselves when seeing that all-too-familiar sign, “Slow Children Crossing”?

As funny as misplaced modifiers are, editors don’t want to spot them in your writing. Need help with proofreading your writing (to avoid silly misplaced modifiers)? Writer’s Relief proofreaders can help.