Sentence Structure Errors
Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause in a sentence which allows us to interpret the sentence in several ways. We do not know exactly which word it modifies, so the meaning of the sentence is not clear.

 The parents were asked to sign the form and return it to the school with their child in an envelope.

It seems that the child is to be returned to the school in an envelope! Obviously, in an envelope is a misplaced modifier.

Let's place the misplaced modifier elsewhere in the sentence.

 The parents were asked to sign the form and return it to the school in an envelope with their child.

Now it appears that the school is in an envelope!

Let's place it near form.

 The parents were asked to sign the form in an envelope and return it to the school with their child.

It is rather difficult to sign a form that is in an envelope!

To determine where the misplaced modifier should be placed, ask yourself what the misplaced modifier modifies. It refers to it, so it should be placed by that word.

 The parents were asked to sign the form and return it in an envelope to the school with their child.

The misplaced modifier in the next sentence is not so obvious as the one in the previous sentence.

 Eric told Mother before he left for Maine he would help her clean the attic.

The misplaced modifier in this sentence is the clause before he left for Maine. Does it modify told or help? Because the modifier is not placed near the word it modifies, the meaning is not clear.

Correcting a misplaced modifier

To correct a misplaced modifier, you must place it next to the word it modifies.

For example, to correct the above sentence, let us place the misplaced modifier in two locations to see how it changes the meaning of the sentence.

 Before Eric left for Maine he told his mother he would help her clean the attic.

He told her before he left for Maine. We still don't know when he will do the helping. The modifier is no longer misplaced because it clearly modifies told.

 Eric told his mother he would help her clean the attic before he left for Maine.

Now we know that the cleaning of the attic will be done before he leaves for Maine. The clause now modifies the verb phrase would help, so it is no longer a misplaced modifier.

Practice

Correct the misplaced modifiers in following sentences, using the most effective method.

  1. I gave him a friendly slap as he left the room on his back.
  2. The blaze was extinguished before any damage was done by the local fire department.

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