Monday, August 23, 2010

Misplaced Modifiers

by Sherry Wilson

Many a joke has been made about misplaced modifiers. Here’s one of my favorites: Rugby is a game played by men with peculiarly shaped balls. I’m sure it’s the rugby balls that are being referred to but it certainly isn’t clear, is it? We must go back and put the modifier (a word or group of words which clarifies the meaning of another word or phrase) closer to the noun it modifies. Rugby is a game with peculiarly shaped balls played by men. Or: Rugby is a man’s game played with peculiarly shaped balls.

If the modifier is not near the noun or verb it modifies, the meaning of the sentence will be unclear or incorrect. Read the following sentences and rewrite them placing the modifier closer to the noun or verb it is intended to modify.
a) The teacher will explain why it was wrong to cheat on the test on Wednesday.
b) I took a bag on the train stuffed with my favorite books.
c) The teacher told her class to read the story in a strict tone of voice.
d) Mary threatened to leave him often.

Look for the modifiers in your own work and make sure they are placed properly. It will put you on the path to clearer prose.

(c) Copyright 2010 by Sherry Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

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