Modifiers add color and interest to your writing, and well-chosen ones can create a precise picture. But if a modifier is placed improperly, it can create more confusion than color. Even if the reader manages to decipher the intent, that effort could have been saved had the writer been more careful. Here is some advice for avoiding misplaced or dangling modifiers in your writing.
The misplaced modifier is a descriptive word or phrase that is placed too far from the word it modifies. For example, consider this sentence:
The lost client's file was finally located.
In this case, it sounds as if the client were lost. To correct the error, simply move the modifier, "lost," closer to the word it modifies, "file."
The client's lost file was finally located.
A dangling modifier is a phrase that appears to modify the wrong word. Here is an example:
Facing the end of the day, the in-box on John's desk looked insurmountable.
Oops! It sounds like the in-box is facing the end of the day. To correct the error, rearrange the sentence so the correct word, "John," is modified by the phrase. Then reword the rest of the sentence as necessary.
Facing the end of the day, John stared at the insurmountable in-box on his desk.
The problems just discussed can be caught and solved with a careful proofreading. Reading your writing aloud is especially helpful, since your ear can find errors that your eye has missed.
You can learn more about modifiers beginning on page 265 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace, just one of the many helpful business writing materials from UpWrite Press.
- Joyce Lee