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Error 7: Misplaced Modifiers (mm)

Misplaced modifiers are words that, because of awkward placement, do not describe what the writer intended them to describe. A misplaced modifier can make a sentence confusing or unintentionally funny. To avoid misplaced modifiers, place words as close as possible to what they describe.

  • Misplaced modifier example: He served pancakes to the children on paper plates. (Were the children on paper plates?)
  • Correct: He served the children pancakes on paper plates.
  • Misplaced modifier example: I saw a rabbit and a raccoon on the way to the airport. (Were the rabbit and the raccoon on the way to the airport?)
  • Correct: On the way to the airport, I saw a rabbit and raccoon.
  • Misplaced modifier example: He nearly brushed his teeth for ten minutes every night. (Did he come close to brushing his teeth but in fact did not brush them at all?)
  • Correct: He brushed his teeth for nearly ten minutes every night.

Note: Words like almost, even, exactly, hardly, just, merely, nearly, only, scarcely, and simply should come immediately before the word they modify.

The following sentences have different meanings because of the placement of only.

  • Only Mr. Brown offered me thirty dollars to mow his lawn. (Mr. Brown was the only person to offer thirty dollars. No one else offered thirty dollars.)
  • Mr. Brown only offered me thirty dollars to mow his lawn. (Mr. Brown offered, but did not pay thirty dollars.)
  • Mr. Brown offered me only thirty dollars to mow his lawn. (Mr. Brown offered thirty dollars, but I was expecting forty dollars.)

Checking for Misplaced Modifiers

  1. Find the modifier.
  2. Make sure the modifier has something to modify.
  3. Make sure the modifier is as close as possible to the word, phrase, or clause it modifies.

Correcting Misplaced Modifiers

Example: The woman bought a dress at the store with green stripes.

1. Find the modifier.

  • In this case, the modifier is with green stripes.

2. Make sure the modifier has something to modify.

  • In this case, the word being modified is dress.

3. Make sure the modifier is as close as possible to the word being modified.

  • In this case, with green stripes is not as close as possible to dress.

Correct: The woman bought the dress with green stripes at the store.


Exercise

Please print this exercise, mark the correct answers, and check your work against the version with answers.

Exercise on Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Exercise on Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers with Answers

 

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