Sunday, April 21, 2024

Tips to Correct Misplaced Modifiers


girl pointing at computer

A dangling or misplaced modifier does not clearly modify the word it intends to. There are usually two reasons: 1) It is not located near the word it modifies, or 2) The word it intends to modify is missing from the sentence.


A squinting modifier can modify either the word that precedes it or the word that follows it, thus creating ambiguity.


Misplaced modifiers can create mental pictures that are often humorous.

Here is something that was posted on Facebook: “Does anyone have a used car seat for a child they are ready to sell?”


Sometimes, it’s possible to read a sentence that contains a misplaced or dangling modifier and not notice the error. As always, it is easier to detect the mistakes in other people’s writing than it is in your own. You know what you are trying to say, but you will say it badly if the modifiers are out of place in the sentence.


A modifying phrase or clause must clearly modify a word in the sentence. If there is no word to which the modifier is attached, the modifier is misplaced.


Confusing: Carrying an armful of flowers, his foot caught on the steps.

His foot is not carrying the flowers. There is no word in the sentence for the participial phrase to modify, so it contains a dangling modifier. Sometimes you must add a word for the phrase to modify.

Corrected: Carrying an armful of flowers, he caught his foot on the steps.


Another way writers can confuse readers is by placing a modifier in a sentence that could modify two different words. As a result, the reader will not understand the writer’s intended meaning. This error is called using a squinting modifier. (Sometimes, it is called using a two-way modifier.)


Confusing: Todd said after the game Jack acted like a jerk.

Since the phrase after the game could modify the word said or acted, the meaning of this sentence is not clear. Did Todd say this after the game, or did Jack act like a jerk after the game? Depending on what the intended meaning was, the sentence could be corrected in two different ways.

Clear: After the game, Todd said Jack acted like a jerk.

Clear: Todd said Jack acted like a jerk after the game.


To avoid dangling modifiers, be sure to place the modifier close to the word it modifies.

· Sometimes, you must add a word to the sentence, and sometimes, you can move the modifying word, phrase, or clause closer to the word it modifies.


To avoid squinting modifiers, carefully construct your sentences to say what you mean, and make it clear which word is being modified.


To avoid such errors as these in your writing,  carefully proofread what you’ve written and write sentences that are well constructed. The more practice, the better you will become at avoiding errors with misplaced and squinting modifiers.


Here are a few more examples. Think about how you could correct them.

1. The bear was near the empty garbage can searching for food.    

     (Was the garbage can searching for food?)

2.  The dog ran into the room wiggling and jumping for joy.

     (Was the room wiggling and jumping for joy?)

3.  He saw her at the meat counter talking to the butcher.

     (Was the meat counter talking to the butcher?)

I hope you found this mini-lesson helpful for your students. You will find more information in my TPT store.

Click here for a free end-of-the-year writing activity your students may find interesting.

You can find practice exercises here if you would like to offer your students more practice correcting misplaced modifiers.

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