Misplaced modifiers in English/ Examples of misplaced modifiers

Hello, learners! This post will help you master what misplaced modifiers in English are, different types of misplaced modifiers, and how to correct them. Let’s first understand what a misplaced modifier is.

What is a misplaced modifier in English?

A misplaced modifier in English is a word, a phrase, or a clause that is placed far away from the word it modifies and often appears to modify something it does not intend to modify. Since it is misplaced, it makes the meaning of a sentence ambiguous.

The main problem with a misplaced modifier is that the sentence having it may be misinterpreted by the reader.

Misplaced modifier examples:

I saw some cute puppies driving to the office.

Here, driving to the office (a present participle phrase) is the misplaced modifying phrase that seems to be modifying the noun “puppies.” Can puppies be driving to the office? It is not possible. We, the readers, understand it’s intended to modify the subject I, but since it is placed near to the noun puppies, it seems to be modifying it. This is how a modifier is misplaced. Our job as a writer is to write in a way that is understood by all, without any ambiguity.

Correction: Driving to the office, I saw some cute puppies.

Check out Pre and Post modifiers in English.

Max almost failed every test he gave.

This sentence makes sense without any modification. So, what is the misplaced modifier here if it perfectly makes sense? It is more likely that he failed almost every test he gave than almost failing every test he gave. So, the adverb almost is misplaced here.

Correction: Max failed almost every test he gave.

Leaving everything to God sometimes works for us.

What is the misplaced modifier in this sentence? This sentence makes perfect sense. But “how are you reading it’ is the question. The sentence can be read in two different ways with two completely different meanings:

  1. “Leaving everything to god sometimes” works for us. The adverb sometimes is a part of the subject.
  2. Leaving everything to the god “sometimes works for us.” Here, the adverb sometimes is a part of the predicate; it is modifying the main verb (works) in the sentence.

When a modifier can modify both (what’s coming before it and after it), it is called a squinting modifier.)

Seeking an apology for my bad behavior, a letter was written to my parents.

This is an incorrect sentence as it does not have the subject the modifier (Seeking an apology for my bad behavior) can modify. Such a modifier is called a dangling modifier.

Having a misplaced modifier in a sentence is like aiming at one thing and hitting the other.

– Ashish Sharma
Misplaced modifier infographic
Misplaced modifier infographic

Types of misplaced modifiers in English

There are 3 types of misplaced modifiers in English:

  1. Classic/normal misplaced modifiers
  2. Squinting modifiers
  3. Dangling modifiers

1. Classic misplaced modifiers

These are modifiers that appear to be modifying the wrong noun in a sentence.

Examples of classic misplaced modifiers:

  • My friend Monu left a wristwatch at my house imported from Germany.

The misplaced modifier (in red) seems to be modifying the wrong noun: my house. Can my house be imported from a country? It does not seem possible. The misplaced modifier intends to modify the noun “wristwatch” but appears to be modifying the wrong one: my house. Though we know what it is actually modifying, it is not right to leave a statement with such ambiguity.

Correction: My friend Monu left a wristwatch imported from Germany at my house.

  • The boys are watching movies on my phone smoking cigarettes quietly.

The misplaced modifier (smoking cigarettes quietly) seems to be modifying the noun phrase: my phone. Can my phone smoke cigarettes? No, right? The modifier is actually modifying the noun ‘boys‘.

Correction:

The boys, smoking cigarettes quietly, are watching movies on my phone.
Smoking cigarettes quietly, the boys are watching movies on my phone.

  • He nearly ruined the life of 2000 students.

As a reader, it seems that he almost ruined their lives. But the word ‘nearly’ is misplaced and intends to modify the noun phrase ‘2000 students’. In the mind of the writer, the meaning of this sentence is perfectly clear.

Correction: He ruined the life of nearly 2000 students.

  • Only your father gave me 2000 rupees for the entire work.

The sentence is grammatically fine. But the meaning (that we perceive) of the sentence is not what the writer intends to give. The writer intends to modify the noun phrase ‘2000 rupess’ but misplaces the modifier ‘only’.

Correction: Your father gave me only 2000 rupees for the entire work.

  • Ron was playing with his dog in a pink sweater.

Who’s in the pink sweater? Is it Ron or his dog? The prepositional phrase (working as a modifier) is close to the noun ‘dog’ and seems to be modifying it. You wouldn’t think otherwise as the modifying phrase is close to it. But it can possibly (and actually intends to) modify the subject ‘Ron’.

Correction:

In a pink sweater, Ron was playing with his dog.
Ron, in a pink sweater, was playing with his dog.

More misplaced modifiers

  • The kids were playing with the keys under the table.
    Correction: The kids were playing under the table with the keys.
  • While coming back from the gym, I found a smart man’s watch.
    Correction: While coming back from the gym, I found a man’s smart watch.
  • I had to eat the cold plate of Mac and Cheese.
    Correction: I had to eat the plate of cold Mac and Cheese.
  • We slowly ran to Jon’s house and ate the meal he had prepared.
    Correction: We ran to Jon’s house and slowly ate the meal he had prepared.
  • Riya only contributed $1000 to the fund created for some poor students.

    Correction: Riya contributed only $1000 to the fund created for some poor students. (modifying the noun ‘$1000’)
    Correction: Only Riya contributed Riya contributed $1000 to the fund created for some poor students. (modifying the noun ‘Riya’)
    Correction: Riya only contributed $1000 to the fund created for some poor students. (modifying the verb ‘contributed’)

2. Squinting modifiers

Modifiers that appear to be modifying the words coming both before and after it are called squinting modifiers. A squinting modifier is also known as a two-way modifier.

Examples of squinting modifiers:

  • Eating junk food sometimes does not affect your health.

Sometimes is the misplaced modifier that is modifying both the verbs coming to its left and right (Eating and affect). Is “eating sometimes” does not affect your health or it ‘sometimes does not affect your health’?

  • Whatever she cooks quickly changes my mood.

Does the modifier (sometimes) qualify the verb of the noun clause cooks or the main verb of the sentence changes? Again, it is not clear which word it is modifying.

How to correct a squinting modifier?

Place a squinting modifier close to the word it modifies. Let’s take the above examples and make them better.

  • Sometimes, eating junk food does not affect your health. (modifying the verb ‘eating’)
  • Eating junk food does not sometimes affect your health. (modifying the verb ‘affect’)
  • Whatever she quickly cooks changes my mood. (modifying the verb ‘cooks’)
  • Whatever she cooks quickly changes my mood. (modifying the verb ‘changes’)

3. Dangling modifiers

A dangling modifier misses the word or words it modifies or can modify in a sentence. Unlike a classic or a squinting modifier, a dangling modifier does not have the word or words it intends to modify.

Examples of dangling modifiers:

  • After writing the book, a grand party will happen.

What does the modifying phrase (after writing the book) modify? The sentence does not have anything the modifier is modifying. The modifier has an action in it; a grand party, the only noun in the sentence, can’t write the book. So, this is a case of a dangling modifier.

  • While talking over the phone, the train left.

The modifying phrase misses the word it intends to modify. The noun train that is coming next to it can’t talk over the phone. So, the modifier dangles again without having the word it modifies.)

How to correct a dangling modifier?

A dangling modifier can be corrected in the following two ways:

  1. Add the subject of the dangling modifier
  2. Change the dangling modifier into a dependent clause

Let’s take the previous example and correct it in these two ways.

Dangling modifier sentence: While talking over the phone, the train left.

  • While talking over the phone, I missed the train.
  • While I was talking over the phone, the train left.

How to correct misplaced modifiers in English?

A misplaced modifier in English is simply corrected by placing it next to/close to the word/words it modifies. Yes, that’s how simple it is to correct a misplaced modifier. Let’s try it! ūüėČ

Misplaced modifier examples:

  • Rahul bought a dog for my sister named Tommy. ❌
  • Rahul bought a dog named Tommy for my sister. ✔️
  • There is a concept in my college called Growth For Everyone. ❌
  • There is a concept called Growth For Everyone in my college. ✔️
  • Watching the video of his wedding, the old memories came back to life. ❌
  • After we saw the video of his wedding, the old memories came back to life. ✔️
  • An expensive plate of steak was served to us last night. ❌
  • A plate of expensive steak was served to us last night. ✔️
  • A man’s bored life is tough to look at. ❌
  • A bored man’s life is tough to look at. ✔️

FAQs

What is an example of a misplaced modifier?

A misplaced modifier is a word, a phrase, or a clause that is placed far away from the word it modifies. Since it is misplaced, it makes the meaning of a sentence ambiguous or different.

Ex РMy friend Monu left a wristwatch at my house imported from Germany.

‘Imported from Germany’ is a misplaced modifier that seems to be modifying the noun phrase my house but actually intends to modify the noun wristwatch. Can my house be imported from a country? It does not seem possible. Though we know what it is actually modifying, it is not right to leave a statement with such ambiguity.

What are the three types of misplaced modifiers?

There are three types of misplaced modifiers in English:

1. Classic misplaced modifier: these are modifiers that appear to be modifying the wrong noun in a sentence.
2. Squinting modifier: modifiers that appear to be modifying the words coming both before and after it are called squinting modifiers.
3. Dangling modifier: A dangling modifier misses the word or words it modifies or can modify in a sentence. Unlike a classic or a squinting modifier, a dangling modifier does not have the word or words it intends to modify.

What is the difference between misplaced and dangling modifiers?

A classic misplaced modifier seems to modify something that it does not intend to modify and sits far away from the word it intends to modify. On the other hand, a dangling modifier just dangles in a sentence. It has nothing to modify in a sentence. The word it intends to modify is not there in the sentence.

Misplaced modifier example: I had to eat the hot plate of Mac and Cheese.
Correction: I had to eat the plate of hot Mac and Cheese

Dangling modifier example: While talking over the phone, the bus left. (the bus can’t talk and the sentence misses the word it intends to modify)
Correction: While talking over the phone, I missed the bus.

How can misplaced modifiers be avoided?

Placing modifiers close to what they intend to modify will help you avoid misplacing your modifiers. If you place them far away from the subject they intend to modify, there are good chances you misplace them, and your readers misinterpret the meaning of the subject.

How do you get rid of a dangling participle?

If a dangling participle comes at the beginning of a sentence, use a noun/pronoun that it can modify just after it. If it comes in the middle or at the end of a sentence, try using a word it can modify right before it.

After writing the book, a grand party will happen.
Correction: After writing the book, I will throw a grand party.

Why is it important to fix misplaced and dangling modifiers?

Having misplaced and dangling modifiers in your sentence makes it ambiguous or changes the original meaning of the sentence. To make sure your readers understand what you communicate in the sentence, not a different meaning, it is important to avoid misplaced and dangling modifiers.

Here’s our YouTube video on the topic. Do check it out for a better understanding of the topic:

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