Keep the Focus on What You Say, Not How You Say It: Fixing Misplaced Modifiers

Posted: December 13th, 2013, 9:21 pm   By: brittany.corners

Misplaced modifiers differ from dangling modifiers, so make sure to understand the difference first (see previous blog post on dangling modifiers). Dangling modifiers occur when the modifier is missing. Conversely, misplaced modifiers result in a sentence conveying the wrong meaning because the modifier applies to the wrong noun or phrase.

It is important when writing and editing that you can easily identify and correct these when they occur. Misplaced modifiers pull a reader’s attention to how you say something instead of keeping it focused on what you are saying, which makes your communication suffer. When it comes to e-commerce writing, this can affect your ability to convince someone with your otherwise brilliant paragraph to make a purchase.

Keep modifiers as close as possible to the nouns or phrases to which they apply. When modifiers are misplaced, the meaning intended in your words can prove illusive or distorted. Consider the meanings implied in the following sentences.

  1. Try a gold woman’s watch to add elegance and sophistication to any outfit.
  2. Enjoy your outdoor spaces with the addition of chic, comfortable and durable outdoor patio furniture, and start treasuring time spent in the outdoors sitting with friends and family leisurely.

In the first sentence, the modifier (gold) is an adjective. When gold precedes “woman’s,” it is applied to that possessive noun. The meaning of the sentence when it is written this way is that a gold woman can own a watch. Correctly placing the modifier to make it clear that it is a woman’s watch that is gold makes the sentence look like this:

  1. Try a woman’s gold watch to add elegance and sophistication to any outfit.

In the second sentence, the modifier (leisurely) is an adverb. The placement of “leisurely” at the end of the sentence makes it mean that family is leisurely, which really makes no sense. Leisurely is an adverb that modifies sitting; as such, it needs to precede the word to which it applies. Correctly placing the modifier to make your meaning clear makes the sentence look this this:

  1. Enjoy your outdoor spaces with the addition of chic, comfortable and durable outdoor patio furniture, and start treasuring time spent in the outdoors leisurely sitting with friends and family.

Adverbs like almost, merely, just, only and nearly are very commonly misplaced, creating unintended meanings. Try this example:

  • When you add these fun, brightly-colored towels to your bathroom, you almost feel as if you are immersed in your own tropical paradise.

“Almost” in this sentence is the modifier, and placing it in front of “feel” implies that you do not feel at all. Correcting this makes the sentence look like this:

  • When you add these fun, brightly-colored towels to your bathroom, you feel almost as if you are immersed in your own tropical paradise.

Corrected, this sentence now implies that you feel almost like you are in a tropical paradise, which is what the intended meaning is as well.

When writing and editing, carefully consider what adjectives and adverbs apply to, this ensures that your intended meanings are preserved. Place modifiers as close as possible to those words or phrases to which the modifying applies. Otherwise, the overall effectiveness of your writing is lost, decreasing the chance that your points are properly conveyed.