Using Modifers Correctly
When you use modifiers incorrectly, they actually muddy your message and suggest carelessness on your part. Here are two of the most common errors in using modifiers, along with ways to avoid them.
A misplaced modifier appears to modify the wrong word, causing confusion for your reader. An example appears in the following sentence:
Sheila almost worked until midnight.
To say that “Sheila almost worked” makes her look like a slacker. The writer wanted to say that Sheila worked late—until almost midnight. The placement of the modifier “almost” makes a big difference in the meaning of the sentence. To avoid such misunderstandings, be sure your modifiers are close to the words they describe.
The dangling modifier is a common error in which the modified word is either far from the modifier or missing completely, making the sentence unclear, or even preposterous. Here is an example:
Racing recklessly down the street, the houses became a blur.
In this instance, it appears that the houses were “racing down the street”—an unlikely occurrence. To repair such an error, the writer must clearly indicate who or what was racing:
Racing recklessly down the street, I saw only a blur of houses.
Another repair turns the modifying phrase into a clause by adding a subject:
As I raced recklessly down the street, the houses became a blur.
Always check your modifiers to make sure they are modifying the right words. The result will be clearer communication.
You can find more information about using modifiers correctly on page 99 of Business and Sales Correspondence, part of the EZ Series of business writing materials from UpWrite Press. Or check out page 265 of Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing & Communicating in the Workplace.