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All About MODIFIERS

All About MODIFIERS

Objective:
  1. Explain what modifiers are and how they function in a sentence.

  2. Explain how to avoid dangling modifiers.

  3. Explain how to avoid misplaced modifiers.

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Tutorial

What is a MODIFIER? How does it function in a sentence?

A MODIFIER is a word, phrase, or clause that provides description in a sentence.

WORD = self explanatory

PHRASE = phrase is a collection of words that may have nouns or verbals, but it does NOT have a subject doing a verb (ie - leaving behind her books, because of the boy's energetic spirit)

CLAUSE = a collection of words which has a subject that is actively doing a verb (ie - when I get the chance, Ted ran a race); clauses can be independent (CAN stand alone as a sentence) or dependent (CANNOT stand alone as a sentence)

It has been said that MODIFIERS breathe life into sentences!

Look at this ordinary sentence:

Katie spilled her milk.

Now let's add some modifiers:

Careless Katie, who was rushing through lunch so she could go play with her best friend, Maria, absentmindedly reached forward to grab her glass of chocolate milk, spilling it into cascading droplets down the side of the red checkered tablecloth.

Hmmm... which sentence paints a more vivid picture of what the writer was thinking in his head? Yes, MODIFIERS do breathe life into sentences. Most writing would be quite boring and dry without MODIFIERS!

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MODIFIERS can be...

  • adjectives

  • adjective clauses

  • adverbs

  • adverb clauses

  • infinitive phrases

  • participle phrases

  • prepositional phrases

  • and more

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Let's look a little further at the above "fleshed-out" sentence (about Katie and her spilled milk). While we will not name every type of modifier (words, phrases, clauses) within this sentence, we will hit the major ones.


http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/

Careless Katie, who was rushing through lunch so she could go play with her best friend, Maria, absentmindedly reached forward to grab her topped-off glass of chocolate milk, spilling it into cascading droplets down the side of the red checkered tablecloth.

careless = adjective

who was rushing through lunch so she could go play with her best friend, Maria = adjective clause

best = adjective

absentmindedly = adverb

forward = adverb

to grab her topped-off glass of chocolate milk = infinitive phrase

her = adjective

topped-off = adjective

of chocolate milk = prepositional phrase

chocolate = adjective

spilling it into cascading droplets down the side of the red checkered tablecloth = participle phrase

cascading = adjective

red = adjective

checkered = adjective

Wow! That's a lot of MODIFIERS.

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Source: Nancy Heilman

How does a MODIFIER function?

This one-minute video gives a list of the very important roles that modifiers play in sentences.

Source: Nancy Heilman

What is a DANGLING MODIFIER?

A DANGLING MODIFIER is a word or phrase that is not clearly and logically related to the word(s) it modifies (sits next to).

As a result, the phrase is left dangling (is unclear and "hanging" or "dangling") because of confused/misinterpreted meaning. This confused meaning often results from a word or two not being present in the sentence. The sentence produced, then, is oftentimes humorous.

4 EXAMPLES:

1. Having been painted the day before, Jack was able to drive his car.

CONFUSION: Jack was painted?

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCES:

  • Having been painted the day before, the car was ready to be driven by Jack.
  • Jack was able to drive his car, having painted it the day before.

If the car was the item that was painted, then it needs to be next to the phrase that tells more about it.

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2. When ten years old, my father went to car repair school.

CONFUSION: Your father was really only ten when he went to school for car repair? That's young.

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCES:

  • When I was ten years old, my father went to car repair school.
  • My father went to car repair school when I was ten years old.

If the person who was ten years old was the person writing the sentence, then that person must somehow be indicated somewhere in the sentence (thus adding the "I" in both sentences).

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3. Standing in the middle of the street, a car will hit you.

CONFUSION: A car is standing in the middle of the street, and this car will hit you?

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCES:

  • Standing in the middle of the street, you will be hit by a car.
  • A car will hit you if you stand in the middle of the street.
  • If you stand in the middle of the street, a car will likely hit you.
  • Mark, if you stand in the middle of the street, a car will probably hit you.

As in the previous sentence above (about car repair school), the person referred to that is standing in the middle of the street needs to somehow be inserted into the sentence (the you in the sentence).

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4. Piled up next to the sink, I began doing the dishes.

CONFUSION: You were piled up next to the sink? Now THAT is a funny sight!

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCES:

  • I began doing the dishes piled up next to the sink.
  • Piled up next to the sink, the dishes were done up by me.

The items that were piled up next to the sink (in this case, the dishes) need to be right next to each other in the sentence construction. In other words, the words piled up next to the sink need to be close to the word dishes because these six words modify or further explain the dishes.

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Quite often, then, we see DANGLING MODIFIERS appearing at the beginning of sentences, as the above examples illustrate.

Source: Nancy Heilman

What is a MISPLACED MODIFIER?

A MISPLACED MODIFIER is a modifier (word, phrase, or clause) that describes something it is not intended to... because of WHERE it has been placed in a sentence... or really because of where it has been MISPLACED.

An error of POSITION, then, is the issue. As with dangling modifiers, MISPLACED MODIFIERS often sound awkward, confusing, or even ridiculous, making sentences humorous at times.

4 EXAMPLES:

1. On his way home from the park, Matthew found a gold woman's ring.

CONFUSION: The woman was gold in color?

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCE:

  • On his way home from the park, Matthew found a woman's gold ring.

If the woman's ring was made of gold, then the two pieces of information (ring & gold) need to be sitting next to each other. Generally, words that modify other words must be in very close proximity to each other for the clearest, most accurate meaning.

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2. Just Maria was selected to sing in the festival.

CONFUSION: Only Maria was chosen to be in the festival... as in, no one else? What if the person meant that Maria had very recently been chosen? Then the word "just" is too far away from the word "selected."

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCE:

  • Maria was just selected to sing in the festival.

Again, if the word just refers to the event happening a short time ago,, then it must be placed immediately before the word selected.

Incidentally, the word just is an adverb, and words such as just, only, nearly, merely, and almost are all adverbs and can easily be misplaced in a sentence, thus changing the writter's/communicator's intended meaning.

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3. The witness saw a fence behind the shed made of barbed wire.

CONFUSION: The shed was made of barbed wire?

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCES:

  • The witness saw a fence made of barbed wire behind the shed.
  • Behind the shed, the witness saw a fence made of barbed wire.

In this case, the problem is that the modifying phrase made of barbed wire (which goes with the word fence), needs to be right next to it, not later on in the sentence.

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4. Covered with thick, chocolate frosting, Jack eagerly reached for the slice of wedding cake.

CONFUSION: Jack was covered in frosting? Now THAT is funny to imagine! More likely, the wedding cake was covered with the thick, chocolate frosting.

POSSIBLE CORRECTED SENTENCES:

  • Covered with thick, chocolate frosting, the slice of wedding cake tempted Jack to reach out and take it for himself.
  • Jack eagerly reached for the slice of wedding cake, which was covered with thick, chocolate frosting.

The phrase covered with thick, chocolate frosting refers to (MODIFIES) the wedding cake, therefore, this phrase must appear right next to the words wedding cake.

Source: Nancy Heilman

Summary of MODIFIERS and What Goes Wrong

This one-page summary wraps up our discussion on modifiers.

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Source: Nancy Heilman

Questions and Answers

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