Video (from Youtube): Misplaced and dangling modifiers (Part 1) by Shaun Macleod at Smrt English (new tab). (Watching time: 4m:23secs)
The best place to put your modifier
Always look for ways to place the modifier as close as possible to the thing it's modifying
The best place to put your modifier
When a phrase is doing the modifying, it should go as near as possible to the thing it is modifying. The following examples show poorly placed modifying phrases. [Remember, modifying phrases often convey less-essential information, and are usually sentence fragments/dependent clauses) ← link to sentence fragments page when it is made]
* We served ice-cream to our guests in paper plates. * (Note: asterisks signal examples of poor constructions.)
* The villian was described as a tall, thick-set character with a red beard weighing 110kg. *
You may have seen in the video that Shaun struggled to keep a straight face at the ludicrous situations that these mistakes imply. The meaning is managed better when the modifying phrase is closer to the thing that it intends to modify.
We served ice-cream in paper plates to our guests.
The villian was described as a tall, thick-set character weighing 110kg with a red beard.
Pronouns as modifiers
Pronouns can be efficient, but only if their use as modifiers does not create ambiguity in your sentences.
Pronouns as modifiers:
With pronouns such as he, she, it, his, her, their, them, and they, you must be careful to avoid possible ambiguity (double-meaning). Use the context to make it exactly clear to which nearby thing or person the pronoun refers.
* Tom visited Charles after his divorce. *
* If the teachers model poor language skills, the children may not know it is inappropriate and copy them, which could potentially get them into trouble in the future. *
Instructions: Hover or tap the questions below to see the reason for the answers given in the quiz.
1. Janine visited Nikki after _______ honeymoon.
Complete this sentence with the least ambiguity.
Nikki's ✔ (could also be Janine's)
Why: Although it's slightly awkward, using Janine or Nikki's name here avoids ambiguity. The other options all risk being misinterpreted, for different reasons.
2. * For sale: Hanovarian pony suitable for a lady with strong legs recently broken but with a gentle temperament. *
This sentence has an unexpected (and rather funny) meaning. Identify the meaning.
The pony for sale is suitable for a lady if her strong legs have recently been broken and she has a good temperament. ✔ We don't think the writer intended this, but this is what the sentence means.
The pony for sale has strong legs but they were recently broken. It has a gentle temperament. It is suitable for a lady. ✔ Okay, but this answer misinterprets the word "broken" which in the context of horses means "trained".
Why: You don't want your reader to burst out laughing. Modifier placement matters.
3. You are welcome to visit the cemetery where the Russian composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursdays.
Shift some words to fix this sentence.
...visit the cemetery daily except Thursdays where the Russian composers, ...etc ✔ Limited punctuation - still better than the original
Why: We think that the writer intended to say that visiting the cemetery is allowed every day except Thursdays, but the modifier placement makes it seem that burials happen daily (except Thursdays). Experiment with commas and parentheses to see if you can improve this sentence further.
4. Janine's mother: "Janine's wedding date is set for Saturday 17th October. Janine would love Nikki to be her maid-of-honour..."
Nikki's mother: "That's exactly the same day we've chosen for Nikki's wedding. I guess that means that Janine won't be available to be Nikki's bridesmaid either?"
Best summary of the conversation
Nikki's mum told Janine's mum that Nikki wouldn't be available to be Janine's maid-of-honour. ✔ Because all the characters are female, naming them individually is the only way to be completely clear about who is who in this sentence.
Nikki's mum told Janine's mum that Nikki wouldn't be available to her daughter's maid-of-honour. ✔ This sentence works, although there is still some ambiguity around the words 'her daughter's.
Why: The other choices in this item use pronouns in such a way that we cannot be sure whom they are talking about.