Misplaced Modifier: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Debbie Notari
Misplaced modifiers are exactly as they sound--modifiers that are in the wrong place in a sentence, and because they are in the wrong place, the sentence's meaning changes. In this lesson, we will learn to identify and avoid using misplaced modifiers.

Definition

Misplaced modifiers have two problems. First, they are words, phrases, or clauses that are in the wrong place in sentences; secondly, because they are in the wrong place, they 'modify' or describe the wrong word in the sentence. The effect of a misplaced modifier is sometimes humorous or unclear because when a writer misplaces a modifier, the sentence meaning is other than what the writer intends.

How Does this Happen?

When writers place words in the wrong spots in sentences, or misplace them, the meaning of the sentence changes. Let's look at the following two sentences:

Grace pretended to be her husband's boss.

Grace's boss pretended to be her husband.

These two sentences--both strange, admittedly-- have radically different meanings! In the first sentence, for some crazy reason Grace is pretending to be her husband's boss. In the second sentence, Grace's own boss is shockingly pretending to be her husband. Case in point--word order is critical to sentence meaning.

Common Errors

Look at the following three sentences. They all contain misplaced modifiers.

1. Made of gingerbread, the boy ate the house.

2. The opera singer in the house forgot her music for the concert.

3. Tim observed three kittens on the way to the store.

In sentence number one, it is unclear as to whether it is the boy who is made of gingerbread or the house! A better way to write this sentence would be to say: 'The boy ate the house made of gingerbread.'

In sentence number two, we are not sure if the opera singer is in the house or if she forgot her music in the house. This is a good revision: 'The opera singer forgot the music for the concert in the house.'

Finally, in sentence number three, is it Tim who is on the way to the store or the kittens? Let's fix it by saying: 'On the way to the store, Tim observed three kittens.'

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