Grammar Guides: Misplaced Modifiers

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

At my age, I seem to misplace things all the time: my keys, my mask, my phone. It’s easy to misplace things. In writing, especially with quick texts and emails, misplaced modifiers occur frequently. But what is a misplaced modifier?

Modifiers are phrases that modify or give us more information about a noun, verb, or another phrase. Misplaced modifiers are when these modifiers are placed in the incorrect order in a sentence, modifying the wrong word or phrase. In the sentence, “The dog looked out the window with big ears.” the window has big ears. If we write the sentence as, “The dog with big ears looked out the window” our modifier “with big ears” is placed correctly in the sentence, and the dog, rather than the window, has big ears.



What is the big deal about a misplaced modifier? In the example given, the actual meaning is quite obvious and even a bit humorous. Many times, however, the misplaced modifier causes ambiguity and even confusion. When sending a quick text to your mate, it probably doesn’t matter. In a business email, it can cause a much greater issue. Misplaced modifiers, as you can imagine, could have significant implications with the understanding of a situation. It also makes the writer of the email seem careless in thinking and writing.


While misplacing your shoes or gloves may be irritating, misplaced modifiers can be more than problematic. This grammatical error can cause confusion in its lack of clarity; it can also reflect poorly on you, especially in business writing. Before you hit send, take a quick read. Misplaced modifiers are easy to detect with careful proofreading. Properly placed modifiers enhance understanding, but misplaced ones, well, they can give your windows big ears.


 

Jen Haertling loves teaching about English and writing. She is a former English teacher with a degree in writing. Jen is currently pursuing an MFA in the field.

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