What is a Misplaced Modifier?

Have you ever heard someone say something– or even read something– that left you scratching your head? Maybe someone said or wrote something like, “Running down the street, my hat flew off.” You might have wondered, “How can someone’s hat run down the street?” That confusion tells us that something is amiss— or awkwardly placed or located– in that sentence. This is called a misplaced modifier and it can be fixed in a few ways.

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that is improperly positioned (located) in a sentence, leading to confusion or ambiguity regarding which word or phrase it is intended to modify or alter. To edit a sentence so that it is clearer and communicates what is intended, use one of the following strategies:

  • Move the modifier closer to the word or phrase it modifies.
  • Adjust the sentence structure or add additional words if necessary. You may need to rephrase the sentence or add extra words to add clarity

Example Sentence:

Misplaced Modifier: I saw a huge elephant at the zoo with my binoculars.

Solution: With my binoculars, I saw a huge elephant at the zoo.

In this example, the modifier “with my binoculars” should describe how the speaker saw the elephant.The initial sentence makes it seem as though the huge elephant somehow ended up with “my binoculars.” By repositioning the modifier at the beginning of the sentence, it’s made clear that I used the binoculars to see the elephant.

To resolve this error, the most important thing is to identify which word or group of words the modifier is supposed to modify and make sure they are placed close together. In that way, it’s all about location and arrangement. You may also need to add words or rephrase the sentence or to clarify the subject the modifier is modifying.

These errors make editing and proofreading your writing so important. Writers can review their writing and then make revisions to enhance clarity. It’s always recommended that writers step away from a work and return to it with fresh eyes. This is a best practice for editing and revising written pieces.

Practice Sentences

In order to get better at editing sentences that contain misplaced modifiers, practice with the following sentences. Rewrite new, clearer versions so that the modifier (underlined) is no longer misplaced. The modifier is underlined in each sentence to help you get started. Be flexible– you may not arrive at the exact same solution as others. Remember, the process of revising may demand that you add language to ensure clarity.

  1. After eating dinner, the movie started.
  2. Carrying a heavy backpack, the stairs felt like a mountain.
  3. Swimming quickly, the plastic bag floated further into the lake.
  4. Holding a cup of hot chocolate, the scenery looked beautiful from the window.
  5. By following the recipe carefully, the delicious cake was baked.