Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Placement of Modifiers

Placement of Modifiers

Read through the following sentences, paying attention to the word thoroughly.

  1. He swept the floor thoroughly after cutting his hair.
  2. He swept the floor after thoroughly cutting his hair.
  3. He swept the floor after cutting his hair thoroughly.

In sentence 1, thoroughly describes the way he swept the floor. In sentence 2, it describes the way he cut his hair. In sentence 3, it's unclear what thoroughly describes.

Nothing changes among the three sentences except the placement of the modifier thoroughly. In English, the placement of modifiers can strongly impact the meaning of a sentence.

What Are Modifiers?

To start, here's a refresher on the topic of modifiers.

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

Some other definitions are necessary for understanding the placement of modifiers. Here's an overview of the key terms involved:

  • A phrase is a unit of one or more words that adds meaning to a clause or sentence.
  • A clause is a meaningful group of words made up of a subject and a predicate.
  • The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. It primarily consists of a noun or pronoun.
  • The predicate of a sentence is what describes the subject. It primarily consists of a verb.
  • An adjective is a word that modifies a noun or pronoun.
  • An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
  • The head or head word of a modifier is the word being modified.

Modifiers act as either adjectives or adverbs. Any modifier that acts as an adjective is adjectival, and any modifier that acts as an adverb is adverbial.

Placement of Modifiers, Girl with hat, StudySmarterModifiers are like hats adding information to the head.

That's a very flattering color on you.

In this sentence, the word flattering is a participle: a verb that behaves as an adjective. It modifies the noun color. Because it behaves as an adjective, a participle is an adjectival.


They sat on the bench.

The prepositional phrase on the bench modifies the verb sat. Because it modifies a verb, this is an adverbial prepositional phrase.


She's the manager who hired me.

The clause who hired me modifies the noun manager. Because it modifies a noun, this is an adjectival clause.

Adjectival and adverbial modifiers follow slightly different placement rules. You'll see examples of this later!

Examples of the Placement of Modifiers

Identifying the role of a modifier will help you evaluate its position in a sentence. To analyze a modifier, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the modifier's head. What is being modified by this word, phrase, or clause?To identify the head, ask yourself, "what does this modifier describe?" The answer to this question is the modifier's head.The head is usually immediately before or after the modifier.
  2. Decide whether the modifier is adjectival or adverbial. Remember: an adjectival modifier modifies a noun or pronoun. An adverbial modifier modifies a verb, adjective, or adverb.
  3. Decide whether the placement of the modifier is clear and logical. Are the modifier and the head clearly connected in the sentence? If not, the modifier may be misplaced.

Here are some examples of these steps in action.

This example focuses on the modifier broken.

Is this the broken stove you called about?

What is the modifier's head? To identify the head, ask yourself, "what is broken?" The stove is broken. The head of broken is stove.

Is the modifier adjectival or adverbial? The word stove is a noun. Because it modifies a noun, broken is adjectival.

Is the placement of the modifier clear and logical? The modifier broken appears right before the head and cannot easily modify another word in the sentence. The placement of broken is clear and logical.

This example focuses on the modifier generously.

Harvey gave me credit for the presentation generously.

What is the modifier's head? Ask yourself, "what does generously describe?" Generously describes the way Harvey gave. The head of generously is gave.

Is the modifier adjectival or adverbial? The word gave is a verb. Because it modifies a verb, generously is adverbial.

Is the placement of the modifier clear and logical? Generously is separated from the head by several words. The separation makes the grammatical connection between the modifier and head unclear. The placement of generously is not clear and logical.

How Does the Placement of Modifiers Affect the Meaning of a Sentence?

The placement of modifiers doesn't affect just the clarity of a sentence. It also affects the meaning. Here is an example.

The word only takes a different position in each example. As it moves between the other words, it changes the meaning of the sentence.

  1. Only you met her at the party. You are the only one who met her at the party.
  2. You only met her at the party.You did nothing at the party except meet her.
  3. You met only her at the party.She is the only one you met at the party.
  4. You met her only at the party.The only place you met her was the party.
  5. You met her at the only party.There was only one party, and that's where you met her.

Notice that in each example, only seems to modify the word immediately after it. This is a general pattern of modifiers: modifiers tend to affect the meaning of the words closest to them.

Rules for the Placement of Modifiers

As you've already seen, modifiers are clearest when placed as close as possible to the words they modify. Sometimes, though, modifiers shouldn't be placed immediately before or after their head words. For example:

  • An adverbial modifier shouldn't separate a verb from its object.
  • An adverbial modifier can appear at the beginning of a clause, separated from the head.
  • A predicate adjectival modifier can be separated from its head by a linking verb.

Here are some examples of these unique situations.

They took me to the concert.

In this example, the adverbial prepositional phrase to the concert modifies the verb took. The modifying phrase is separated from the head by the pronoun me, the object of took.

If this adverbial modifier were placed immediately after the head, the sentence would look like this: They took to the concert me. This isn't the correct sentence structure at all. The adverbial modifier needs to be close to the verb, but the object needs to be even closer.

Gradually, his skills improved.

In this example, the adverb gradually modifies the verb improved. Gradually is separated from improved by the subject of the sentence, his skills.

This structure is clear and acceptable, even though the modifier is not right next to its head.

This chair is uncomfortable.

In this example, the adjective uncomfortable modifies the noun chair. Uncomfortable is separated from chair by the linking verb is.

The verb is helps to connect the modifier to the head in a way that forms a complete sentence. This separation of a modifier and its head is also clear and acceptable.

How Do You Evaluate the Correct Placement of Modifiers?

Some common mistakes in modifier placement can obscure the connection between a modifier and its head word. Knowing how to avoid them will help you improve your writing. Two especially common mistakes are misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers.

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a modifier that appears in the wrong position in the sentence. It's unclear which word a misplaced modifier describes. Here's an example:

I found a blue child's hat under the bleachers.

The adjective blue is meant to describe the noun hat, but it is placed right before child's. Because of the placement, the sentence seems to describe the child as blue instead of the hat. Placing the modifier just before the intended head would make the sentence clearer.

I found a child's blue hat under the bleachers.

The last example demonstrated a misplaced adjective. This next example demonstrates a misplaced adverb.

Sean put away the groceries he had bought hurriedly.

It's unclear whether the adverb hurriedly describes how Sean put away the groceries or how he bought the groceries. Logically, it could go either way. The sentence would be clearer if hurriedly appeared before the intended head verb.

Sean hurriedly put away the groceries he had bought.

Sean put away the groceries he had hurriedly bought.

Misplaced modifiers like these are often perfectly acceptable in everyday speech. That's because a listener can often figure out the meaning using context. In formal writing, though, it's important to be as clear as possible.

Dangling Modifiers

Another common mistake is the dangling modifier.

A dangling modifier does not clearly modify a word in the sentence.

Placement of Modifiers, person hanging from a cliff illustration, StudySmarterA dangling modifier.

How can a modifier exist in a sentence without modifying anything? Here is an example:

After vacuuming the rug, the room seemed much cleaner.

The participle phrase after vacuuming the rug acts as an adjective. But which word does it modify? Who vacuumed the rug? The only noun outside the phrase is room, which doesn't logically connect to vacuuming the rug.

To fix this dangling modifier, you have to clearly include the modifier's head in the sentence.

After vacuuming the rug, I noticed that the room seemed much cleaner.

Now the head of the participle phrase is clear. Who vacuumed the rug? I vacuumed the rug.

Without a clear connection, a modifier is left dangling in a sentence. In formal writing, it's important to avoid dangling modifiers by connecting each modifier to a clear head word.

Placement of Modifiers - Key Takeaways

  • A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides extra information about a particular word.
  • Modifiers tend to affect the meaning of the words closest to them.
  • It's best to place modifiers as close as possible to their head words; but in some situations, modifiers shouldn't be placed immediately next to their head words.
  • Two common modifier-placement mistakes are misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers.
  • You can avoid dangling modifiers by connecting each modifier to a clear head word.

Frequently Asked Questions about Placement of Modifiers

In general, modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the words they modify. In some situations, modifiers shouldn't be placed immediately next to their head words. 

To avoid misplaced modifiers, place modifiers as close as possible to the words they modify. To avoid dangling modifiers, connect each modifier to a clear head word within the sentence.

  1. He swept the floor thoroughly after cutting his hair.
  2. He swept the floor after thoroughly cutting his hair.
  3. He swept the floor after cutting his thoroughly hair.

In sentence 1, thoroughly describes the way he swept. In sentence 2, it describes the way he cut his hair. In sentence 3, it's unclear what thoroughly describes.

Two especially common modifier-placement mistakes are misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers. A misplaced modifier appears in the wrong position in the sentence. A dangling modifier does not clearly modify a word in the sentence.

Modifiers tend to affect the meaning of the words closest to them. Modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the words they modify to maintain a clear connection of meaning.

Final Placement of Modifiers 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 is the difference between adjectival and adverbial modifiers?

Show answer

Answer

Any modifier that modifies a noun or pronoun is adjectival, and any modifier that modifies a verb, adjective, or adverb is adverbial.

Show question

Question

Is on the train adverbial or adjectival in this sentence?


He arrived on the train.

Show answer

Answer

Adverbial

Show question

Question

Is surprised adverbial or adjectival in this sentence?


Surprised, she was at a loss for words.

Show answer

Answer

Adjectival

Show question

Question

Identify the head of the modifier helpful in this sentence.


Sara was helpful to us.

Show answer

Answer

The head of the adjective helpful in this sentence is the proper noun Sara.

Show question

Question

Identify the head of the modifier onto the platform in this sentence.


He jumped onto the platform.

Show answer

Answer

The head of the adverbial prepositional phrase onto the platform in this sentence is jumped.

Show question

Question

What is a misplaced modifier?

Show answer

Answer

A misplaced modifier is a modifier that appears in the wrong position in a sentence. It's unclear which word a dangling modifier describes.

Show question

Question

Identify the misplaced modifier in this sentence.


I gave the pressure cooker to my friend with multiple pressure settings.

Show answer

Answer

The misplaced modifier in this sentence is the prepositional phrase with multiple pressure settings

The phrase describes the pressure cooker but is placed immediately after my friend. It's unclear whether the pressure cooker or the friend has multiple pressure settings.

Show question

Question

Identify the misplaced modifier in this sentence.


I went to the park to play frisbee golf on my bike today.

Show answer

Answer

The misplaced modifier in this sentence is the prepositional phrase on my bike.

The phrase describes went to the park but is placed immediately after to play frisbee golf. It's unclear whether I rode my bike to the park or played frisbee golf on my bike.

Show question

Question

What is a dangling modifier?

Show answer

Answer

A dangling modifier is a modifier that does not clearly modify a word in the sentence.

Show question

Question

Identify the dangling modifier in this sentence. How would you fix it?


After cooking dinner, the kitchen had to be cleaned by the cook.

Show answer

Answer

The dangling modifier is the prepositional phrase after cooking dinner. The phrase does not connect to a word explaining who cooked dinner.

This dangling modifier could be fixed this way:

After cooking dinner, the cook had to clean the kitchen.

Show question

Question

Identify the dangling modifier in this sentence. How would you fix it?


Startled by the noise, the crash made everyone jump.

Show answer

Answer

The dangling modifier is the participle phrase startled by the noise. The phrase does not connect to a word explaining who was startled

This dangling modifier could be fixed this way:

Startled by the noise, everyone jumped at the crash.

Show question

Question

Identify the example with the adjectival modifier 


Show answer

Answer

That’s the conductor who yelled at me. 


Show question

Question

Identify the example with the adverbial modifier

Show answer

Answer

They brought me to the doctor. 


Show question

Question

Identify the sentence with the dangling modifier 


Show answer

Answer

Gradually, he felt more comfortable in New York. 


Show question

Question

A modifier is modifying a pronoun. What kind of modifier is it?


Show answer

Answer

An adjectival modifier 


Show question

Question

True or false. An adverbial modifier should separate a verb from its object

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Can a predicate adjectival modifier be separated from its head by a linking verb?


Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

An adverbial modifier can 


Show answer

Answer

Appear at the beginning of a clause, separated from the head

Show question

Question

Does this sentence have a problem with the placement of modifiers?

Jake ran through the list he made quickly. 


Show answer

Answer

This sentence has a dangling modifier. It is unclear if quickly describes how Jake ran through the list or how he made the list. 


Show question

More about Placement of Modifiers
60%

of the users don't pass the Placement of Modifiers quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.