Misplaced Modifiers

First of all, what is a modifier?   What are misplaced modifiers?

A modifier is a word or phrase that “modifies” or “changes” the meaning of another word. 

A modifier can be an adjective or an adverb. 

•    An adjective is a word that modifies a noun. 
•    An adverb is a word that modifies a verb.

Modifiers can be phrases – beginning with a preposition and ending with a noun or pronoun.  The phrases can be adjectival (modifying a noun) or adverbial (modifying a verb).

…from the neighbouring island – where “from” is a preposition and “island” is a noun.


Position in the sentence

  • Be careful with all aspects of your sentence structure.
  • Place modifiers so that they clearly belong to the appropriate part of the sentence.
  • Avoid misplaced modifiers.


If an error results because the modifier is in the wrong place in the sentence, then it is called a misplaced modifier. 

If you change the position of the modifying phrase and the sentence makes good sense, then the error was only a misplaced modifier.

Here are a few examples to help you understand.   Modifying phrases are in italics below:



The original -

The ferry boat from the neighbouring island transported the passengers from Anguilla back home as a free service to the organization.

  • The meaning is quite clear in the sentence above.
  • What if someone mistakenly writes the following:


The change -

The ferry boat from Anguilla transported the passengers from the neighbouring island back home as a free service to the organization.

  • You can see that the meaning of the sentence has changed. 
  • If the original meaning is correct, then these two modifiers would both be considered misplaced modifiers.   

Often the misplacement of a modifier produces something that is quite nonsensical.  In the above, however, it's not so much nonsensical as misleading.


Dangling Modifier

Look at the first sentence below:

(1) The ferry boat from the neighbouring island transported the passengers from Anguilla back home as a free service to the organization.

...and the second sentence:

(2) As president of the organization, I am grateful for this generous gesture and happy to see the co-operation between neighbouring islands.

Both sentences above are accurate. There are no misplaced modifiers.

The second sentence is a good one. 

  • It begins with a modifying phrase “as president…”
  • The phrase clearly modifies the subject that follows:  “I am grateful…”  
  • You clearly know who is the president because of the accurate sentence structure.


However, what if I make a change and write:

(3) As president of the organization, it was a generous gesture on behalf of the ferry boat service.

The sentence above is incorrect. 

  • What happened? 
  • Why is it wrong?
  • The sentence structure has changed!


With regard to the Sentence (3) above - Ask yourself: 

Who is the president of the organization?   The first phrase in the sentence must modify (or identify) the correct person.

  • I am the president. (In the first sentence, it is clear that I am the president.)
  • There is nothing in the revised sentence for the opening phrase to modify. (So, if you don't know that I am the president, the sentence will not tell you.)

The phrase “as president of the organization,” should modify the subject which follows immediately.   So, the "I" would have to follow immediately.

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When you change the subject, you really do have to change the modifier because now the sentence no longer makes proper sense. 

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Dangling modifier.  The sentence below is an example of a dangling modifier – because there is nothing for this first modifier to attach to correctly. 

As president of the organization, it was a generous gesture on behalf of the ferry boat service. (incorrect)

  • To correct the sentence, you must rewrite it completely. 
  • Here is an option:

Transporting the passengers was a generous gesture on behalf of the ferry boat service.


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Another example - misplaced modifiers

Another example of misplaced modifiers

Below is another example of a sentence that has an ambiguous meaning.  When you have a misplaced modifier, you can probably count on some confusion.

Collier laid out the types of jobs he foresaw in Section 4.  (incorrect)

There is a question now:

  • Did he foresee the jobs in Section 4?  OR
  • Did he lay out the jobs in Section 4?

In this situation, we are discussing a report, so the meaning should be that he laid out the types of job in Section 4 of the report.  These were jobs that he foresaw, but he laid out those jobs in Section 4 of the report.

He didn’t “foresee in Section 4.”  Instead, he “laid out in Section 4.”

So, that phrase “in Section 4” should be moved to its appropriate position for a more effective statement.

Here is the correct order - and a much clearer result:

In Section 4, Collier laid out the types of jobs he foresaw.  (correct)

The phrase (which is  modifier) is misplaced in the first example, but properly placed in the second example.  I hope you can see that.


Another example - misplaced modifier

She lives with her husband, Thomas, 44, her daughter Emily, 1, and her son Tennyson, 3, in Hyde Park, New York, who also has the condition.  (incorrect)

What is wrong with the above? 

  • The clause who also has the condition seems to modify the proper noun New York. 
  • That misunderstanding results because the clause is misplaced. 
  • Change the position of the clause and you can correct the sentence:

She lives in Hyde Park, New York,  with her husband Thomas, 44, her daughter Emily, 1, and her son Tennyson, 3.  (correct)


Links and information coming soon -

Click here to read about Pronouns and Antecedents - and the following:

•    Misplaced antecedents for your pronouns
•    Lack of agreement between subject and verb
•    Lack of consistent number between pronouns and their antecedents
•    Dangling participles


LINK - Click this link to find an excellent course in business writing.

LINK - Return from Misplaced Modifiers to Sentence Structure.