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Modifiers that Qualify

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Modifiers that Qualify

Somewhere around four score and maybe seven years ago, our fathers supposedly brought forth, on this or some other continent, a mostly new nation, probably conceived in Liberty, and sort of dedicated to the proposition that basically all men are created equal or something.

If Abraham Lincoln had delivered it this way in 1863, the Gettysburg Address1 wouldn't be remembered as such a powerful historic speech. The added words and phrases make the opening sentence seem unconfident and unimpressive. These words are called qualifiers. Learning to recognize qualifiers will make your writing stronger—almost as strong as Abraham Lincoln's.

Modifiers that Qualify, Abraham Lincoln abstract illustration, StudySmarterFig. 1. Abraham Lincoln knew to avoid qualifiers in his strong and profound speech.

What are Modifiers?

Qualifiers are a kind of modifier.

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides extra information about a particular word.

A modifier can be just about any part of speech: a determiner, an adjective, an adverb, a noun, a participle, a prepositional phrase, etc.

The word being modified is called the head or head word.

walk slowly

In this verb phrase, the adverb slowly is a modifier to the head verb walk.

The relationships between modifiers and head words communicate the meaning of phrases, clauses, and sentences. Without these relationships, a sentence would just be a pile of words with no distinct meaning.

Meaning of Modifiers that Qualify

Modifiers that qualify are a special subcategory of modifiers. They change the intensity of the head word's meaning.

Modifiers that qualify, also called qualifiers, are modifiers that decrease the intensity of the words they modify.

Qualifiers weaken the meaning of the head word and the sentence. This isn't always a bad thing; sometimes it's best to avoid seeming overconfident about something uncertain. But in persuasive writing, it's best to avoid anything that could weaken your argument.

What is the Opposite of Modifiers that Qualify?

If you want to understand modifiers that qualify, it helps to understand their opposite. These words are called intensifiers.

Intensifiers are modifiers that increase the intensity of the words they modify.

While qualifiers bring the intensity and confidence down, intensifiers bring them up.

QualifierIntensifier
slightlyextremely
unlikelydefinite
mightwill

Qualifiers express a lack of confidence and intensifiers express an abundance of confidence. Modifiers that express a neutral level of confidence (or have nothing to do with confidence) are absolutes.

Rules of Modifiers that Qualify

You know the meaning of qualifiers; now for the grammar. Qualifiers can take the form of helping verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. They can also take the form of some phrases and clauses; you'll see examples of those later.

Helping Verbs

Even though they're small, helping verbs can have a large effect on their head verbs.

Helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs, are verbs that modify main verbs. They "help" the main verb by adding extra information.

A helping verb is considered a qualifier when it decreases or weakens the main verb. Here are some examples of helping verbs that count as qualifiers.

  • may

  • might

  • would/wouldn't

  • could/couldn't

  • should/shouldn't

  • doesn't have to

Adjectives

Here's a reminder of the definition of adjectives.

An adjective is a word that adds information to a noun or noun phrase. An adjective is a modifier to a noun or pronoun.

Here are some examples of adjectives that serve as qualifiers.

  • improbable

  • unlikely

  • a few

  • infrequent

  • scarce

  • doubtful

  • alleged

  • apparent

  • uncertain

  • not many

  • slight

Adverbs

Here's a reminder of the definition of adverbs.

An adverb is a word that adds information to a verb, adjective, or another adverb. An adverb is a modifier to these parts of speech.

Here are some examples of adverbs that serve as qualifiers.

  • supposedly

  • apparently

  • a little

  • slightly

  • maybe

  • sort of

  • kind of

  • somewhat

  • basically

  • rarely

  • barely

  • fairly

  • probably

Examples of Modifiers that Qualify

Qualifiers project doubt or lack of confidence. This is also known as hedging.

Modifiers that Qualify, Person Trimming a Hedge, StudySmarterFig. 2. Hedging places a barrier between a writer and their argument.

Hedging refers to expressing information in a noncommittal and unconfident way.

Hedging can have a negative effect on persuasive writing. Take this example:

A recent study might indicate a potential link between a new medication and skin cancer in rodents. The medication was allegedly given to the rodents over a period of around 3 months, after which the rodents were supposedly about 60% more likely to develop skin cancers. The possible link indicates that this medication could potentially be dangerous to some humans as well.

The writer's goal was to warn against the use of this medication. The qualifiers weaken the argument and keep the writer from reaching this goal. The warning would be more effective without the qualifiers.

A recent study indicates a link between a new medication and skin cancer in rodents. The medication was given to the rodents over a period of 3 months, after which the rodents were 60% more likely to develop skin cancers. The link indicates that this medication can be dangerous to humans as well.

Removing the qualifiers from this paragraph makes the writer's message clearer: the writer believes that this medication is dangerous and should be avoided.

Qualifiers weaken the words they modify, but they don't always weaken your writing. One particular writing style that benefits from the use of qualifiers is secondhand reporting.

Imagine that your job is to report on a court proceeding. You need to present both sides of the argument, and you want to avoid seeming partial to one side. This is where qualifiers come in handy.

The defendant purportedly drove to the gas station at 11:00 p.m., just before the time of the alleged break-in. The prosecution claims that the defendant's alibi is false because the gas station in question, according to them, closed at 10:00 p.m. that night. A neighbor, claiming to have seen the crime take place, may have information that could shed light on the situation.

In this example, the whole phrase according to them is a qualifier. It is an adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies the verb closed.

The writer uses qualifiers to describe both sides of the case. This helps the writer seem impartial and unbiased. If the qualifiers were removed or only added to one side of the case, the writer would seem to believe one side over the other.

The defendant drove to the gas station at 11:00 p.m., just before the time of the break-in. The prosecution claims that the defendant's alibi is false because the gas station closed at 10:00 p.m. that night. A neighbor, having seen the crime take place, has information that will shed light on the situation.

Without the qualifiers, the report implies that:

  • The defendant really drove to the gas station.

  • The break-in really happened.

  • The gas station really closed at 10:00 p.m.

  • The neighbor really did see the crime take place.

  • The neighbor really has valuable information to share.

The decision to use qualifiers boils down to this: avoid qualifiers when supporting an argument. Use qualifiers when challenging an argument or reporting events impartially.

Identification of Modifiers that Qualify

If a sentence comes across as doubtful or unconfident, it probably contains qualifiers. As you've already seen, these can include any modifiers (including phrases or clauses) that weaken the meaning of the words they modify. To identify the qualifiers in a sentence, try removing different modifiers from the sentence. If the sentence seems stronger and more confident, the modifier is a qualifier.

Identify the qualifiers in this sentence.

Although you feel better for the most part, you are not necessarily fully recovered.

Which words or phrases might weaken the intensity of the sentence?

The prepositional phrase for the most part weakens the meaning of feel better. It says that the subject feels better, but not completely better.

The adverb necessarily weakens the meaning of not fully recovered. It says that the subject could be fully recovered, but might not be.

If you try removing these modifiers, you'll find that the sentence is stronger and more confident.

Although you feel better, you are not fully recovered.

Try this on your own writing! The next time you write an essay, read through it and look for words that weaken your argument. You'll find that your argument is more convincing without them!

Modifiers that Qualify - Key Takeaways

  • Modifiers that qualify, also called qualifiers, are modifiers that decrease the intensity of the words they modify.
  • Qualifiers weaken the meaning of the head word and the sentence. In persuasive writing, it's best to avoid anything that could weaken your argument.
  • Qualifiers can take the form of helping verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. They can also take the form of some phrases.
  • Avoid qualifiers when supporting an argument. Use qualifiers when challenging an argument or reporting events impartially.
  • To identify the qualifiers in a sentence, try removing different modifiers from the sentence. If the sentence seems stronger and more confident, the modifier is a qualifier.

1 Abraham Lincoln. "The Gettysburg Address" 1863.

Frequently Asked Questions about Modifiers that Qualify

Qualifiers weaken the meaning of the head word and the sentence. In persuasive writing, it's best to avoid anything that could weaken your argument.

To identify the qualifiers in a sentence, try removing different modifiers from the sentence. If the sentence seems stronger and more confident, the modifier is a qualifier.

Qualifiers can take the form of helping verbs (may, might), adjectives (unlikely, slight, not many), and adverbs (apparently, supposedly, scarcely). They can also take the form of some phrases.

Modifiers that qualify, also called qualifiers, are modifiers that decrease the intensity of the words they modify.

Here are some examples of modifiers that qualify:

  • kind of
  • ostensibly
  • relatively
  • might
  • may
  • possible
  • potential

Final Modifiers that Qualify Quiz

Question

What is a modifier?

Show answer

Answer

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides extra information about a particular word.

Show question

Question

What are modifiers that qualify?

Show answer

Answer

Modifiers that qualify, also called qualifiers, are modifiers that decrease the intensity of the words they modify.

Show question

Question

True or false: qualifiers can't take the form of phrases.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What are helping verbs?

Show answer

Answer

Helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs, are verbs that modify main verbs. They "help" the main verb by adding extra information.

Show question

Question

Which of these helping verbs serve as qualifiers?

Show answer

Answer

might

Show question

Question

Which of these helping verbs serve as qualifiers?

Show answer

Answer

may

Show question

Question

What is the opposite of a qualifier?

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Answer

The opposite of a qualifier is an intensifier. Intensifiers are modifiers that increase the intensity of the words they modify.

Show question

Question

Which of these words are intensifiers?

Show answer

Answer

incredibly

Show question

Question

What is an adjective?

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Answer

An adjective is a word that adds information to a noun or noun phrase. An adjective is a modifier to a noun or pronoun.

Show question

Question

Which of these adjectives serve as qualifiers?

Show answer

Answer

temporary

Show question

Question

Which of these adjectives serve as qualifiers?

Show answer

Answer

mere

Show question

Question

What is an adverb?

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Answer

An adverb is a word that adds information to a verb, adjective, or another adverb. An adverb is a modifier to these parts of speech.

Show question

Question

Which of these adverbs serve as qualifiers?

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Answer

purportedly

Show question

Question

Which of these adverbs serve as qualifiers?

Show answer

Answer

a little

Show question

Question

What is hedging?

Show answer

Answer

Hedging refers to expressing information in a noncommital and unconfident way. Using qualifiers is a method of hedging.

Show question

Question

True or false: qualifiers should not always be avoided.

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

In what circumstances are qualifiers helpful?

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Answer

Qualifiers are helpful in secondhand reporting, when a writer wants to appear unbiased. They're also helpful when a writer wants to challenge an argument.

Show question

Question

Identify the qualifiers in this sentence:


This finding might be evidence of a new connection in the field. The scientists allegedly used credible sources and reliable instruments to conduct their study. 


Show answer

Answer

This finding might be evidence of a new connection in the field. The scientists allegedly used credible sources and reliable instruments to conduct their study. 

Show question

Question

Identify the example of an intensifier 


Show answer

Answer

absolutely


Show question

Question

Identify the modifier in this verb phrase

eat quickly


Show answer

Answer

In this verb phrase, the adverb quickly is a modifier to the head verb eat. 


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