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Modifier Placement | Return to Film Library

Einstein: Greetings! My name is Einstein. I’m here to answer all of your grammar questions.

Alien: Thanks so much, Mr. Einstein. I have a question. What is a misplaced modifier and a dangling modifier? Those two confuse me.

Einstein: Yes, those are two common grammar errors. I am glad to be of help. This short slideshow explains the difference between misplaced and dangling modifiers. Also, how they can be avoided. I’ll check back in afterwards to review what we’ve learned.

What is a modifier? Answer: adjective, adverb, phrase, or clause that describes another word. What is a misplaced modifier? A phrase, clause, or word placed too far away from the noun or pronoun it modifies. What is a dangling modifier? A word or phrase that modifies a word not stated in the sentence.

Einstein: Hello again. Let’s review what we’ve learned. I’ll start with the misplaced modifier. You should always place modifiers right next to the word or phrase you are describing. A misplaced modifier happens when when it is not close enough to the word you are trying to describe. This can often lead to a quite confusing and sometimes humorous result. Here is an example: “The boy walked the dog in his pajamas.” In this sentence, it sounds like the dog was wearing the boy’s pajamas. This sentence can be fixed by writing “The boy in pajamas walked the dog.”

Also, watch out for words like only, just, nearly, barely. The sentence “Only Einstein wrote two books” and the sentence “Einstein only wrote two books” have two completely different meanings. The first sentence seems to say that Einstein was the only one to write two books. The second sentence seems to say that Einstein didn’t write more than two books. Misplaced modifiers can be confusing, but they are easy to fix.

OK, now let’s look at dangling modifiers. The following sentence is an example of a dangling modifier: “After playing with her toys, the room was a mess.” In this sentence, it sounds like the room was playing with the toys. Writing “After playing with her toys, the room was a mess” is incorrect because we do not know who or what is playing with the toys. The modifier is left dangling. To correct the sentence you must add words to the sentence to clarify your intended meaning. You can fix this sentence by writing: “After playing with her toys, the girl left the room a mess.” Place the word being modified (in this case “the girl”) directly after the comma.

Alien: Wow, thanks for all that info. I feel smarter now.

Einstein: Glad to be of help. Now you know all you need to know about misplaced and dangling modifiers. When using modifiers, always make sure to place them as close as possible to the word they are describing. Thanks for watching. Bye for now.