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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Misplaced Modifiers


GET READY:

Do you know what a "modifier" is, and what it does? There are two kinds in English; do you know what they are, and what they do, exactly?

READ THIS:

Like the "dangling participle," the "misplaced modifier" is a writing mistake that can lead to some funny sentences.

The idea is simple: a misplaced modifier is an adverb or adjective (or an adverbial or adjectival phrase--groups of words that work as an adverb or adjective) that is placed too far from the word being modified.

Look at this sentence: "My mother told me I would have gray hair when I was ten."

No one has gray hair at ten years old! The adverbial phrase "when I was ten" tells when my mother told me. But it is far away from that verb (told), and so it seems to modify the verb "have."

A better sentence would be: "My mother told me when I was ten that I would have gray hair."

Here are some more "funny" sentences with misplaced modifiers:

1. The company created a new toy for children made of plastic.
2. A woman passed by walking a dog wearing a short skirt.
3. We saw several monkeys on vacation in Mexico.
4. We saw a herd of sheep on the way to our hotel in Wales.
5. Two sisters were reunited after waiting 18 years in the checkout line.
6. My brother almost drove around the parking lot twenty times.
7. My cousin went on and on, describing the details of her wedding in the elevator.
8. We saw dinosaurs on a field trip to the natural history museum.
9. The guest speaker had dedicated his new book to his dog who was an archaeologist.
10. Many people watched the Fourth of July fireworks in their cars.

NOTE:

The simplest way to describe how to "fix" these sentences is to say, "Put the modifier closer to the word it modifies." If you know the terms "subject" and "predicate," you'll see that in many cases, a phrase meant to modify a word in the subject is in fact in the predicate. So move it!

PRACTICE:

Look at the ten sentences in the reading above. For each one, say why it's funny, and tell how to correct it.

ANSWERS TO THE PRACTICE:

1. The company created a new toy for children made of plastic.
What’s funny: It sounds like the children were made of plastic
Corrections: The company created a new toy made of plastic for children.

2. A woman passed by walking a dog wearing a short skirt.
What’s funny: It sounds like the dog was wearing a short skirt.
Corrections: A woman wearing a short skirt passed by walking a dog.

3. We saw several monkeys on vacation in Mexico.
What’s funny: It sounds like the monkeys were on vacation.
Corrections: On vacation in Mexico, we saw several monkeys.

4. We saw a herd of sheep on the way to our hotel in Wales.
What’s funny: It sounds like the sheep were on the way to our hotel.
Corrections: On the way to our hotel in Wales, we saw a herd of sheep.

5. Two sisters were reunited after waiting 18 years in the checkout line.
What’s funny: It sounds like the sisters were waiting 18 years in the checkout line.
Corrections: After waiting 18 years, two sisters were reunited in the checkout line.

6. My brother almost drove around the parking lot twenty times.
What’s funny: It sounds like my brother ALMOST drove, but not quite.
Corrections: My brother drove around the parking lot almost twenty times.

7. My cousin went on and on, describing the details of her wedding in the elevator.
What’s funny: It sounds like the wedding was in the elevator.
Corrections: My cousin went on and on in the elevator, describing the details of her wedding.

8. We saw dinosaurs on a trip to the natural history museum.
What’s funny: It sounds like the dinosaurs were on a trip.
Corrections: On a trip to the natural history museum, we saw dinosaurs.

9. The guest speaker had dedicated his new book to his dog who was an archaeologist.
What’s funny: It sounds like the dog was an archaeologist.
Corrections: The guest speaker, who was an archaeologist, had dedicated his new book to his dog.

10. Many people watched the Fourth of July fireworks in their cars.
What’s funny: It sounds like the fireworks were in the people's cars.
Corrections: Many people in their cars watched the Fourth of July fireworks.

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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