Modifier Placement-Help Please!

Did you know modifiers can be misplaced, dangle, and squint?  Writing is hard.

In the book, The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier:How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing, Bonnie Trenga provides a lesson on how to make sure our modifiers are utilized correctly.  Here are my notes from that chapter.

Modifier Placement

Beginning of a Sentence:  Keep the noun next to the modifier.

  1. The noun should come right after the comma
    1. Dressed in a purple gown, the elephant walked onto the stage.
      1. Noun:  elephant
      2. Modifier:  dressed in a purple gown
    2. Clues that a misplaced modifier begins a sentence:
      1. a past participle (past tense verb) begins the sentence
        1. Incorrect:  Dressed in a purple gown, the stage was bright that the elephant walked onto.
        2. CorrectDressed in a purple gown, the elephant walked onto the bright stage.
      2. as, like, or unlike begin the sentence
        1. Incorrect:  Unlike the ring master, the elephant walked onto the bright stage, who waited in the shadows.
        2. Correct:  The elephant walked onto the bright stage, unlike the ring master who waited in the shadows.
      3. if, it, or there occur after the comma
        1. Incorrect:  The ring master raised his arms, it was quiet.
        2. Correct:  The ring master raised his arms, the room became quiet.
        3. Better:  The room quieted as the ring master raised his arms.
      4. an -ing word begins a sentence or is the 2nd or 3rd word following a word in the chart below:
        1. Incorrect: After snapping his whip, the elephant bowed.
        2. Correct:  After snapping his whip, the ring master got the elephants attention and she bowed.
        3. Better:  The elephant bowed when the ring master snapped his whip.
          Words that Often Precede a Misplaced Modifier that Ends In

Middle/End of a Sentence

  1. Clues that a modifier has been misplaced within a sentence:
    1. a phrase begins with that or who
      1. who: describes people
        1. Incorrect: The ring master directed the elephant, who was wearing a top hat.
        2. Correct:  The ring master who was wearing a top hat, directed the elephant.
        3. Even Better:  The ring master, wearing a top hat, directed the elephant.
      2. that: describes things and animals
        1. Incorrect:  The elephant followed the ring master’s directions, that was wearing a purple gown.
        2. Correct:  The elephant that was wearing a purple gown, followed the ring master’s directions.
        3. Even Better:  The elephant, wearing a purple gown, followed the ring master’s directions.
    2. a phrase that could start with that or who, but doesn’t
      1. Incorrect: The ring master the elephant followed was tall and handsome.
      2. Correct:  The ring master who the elephant followed was tall and handsome.

Other Resources

More Writing Resources
Grammar Girl:  Misplaced Modifiers
Grammar Bytes:  Rules for Finding and Fixing Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers