Grammar Bite: Misplaced Modifiers

Watch out for misplaced modifiers.

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes something. A modifier at the beginning of a sentence is considered “misplaced” when it doesn’t match up with what follows, which can cause confusion for your reader. For example, I recently received an email from an organization I support financially. Here’s how it began, “Dear Dean: As a faithful supporter of our organization, we are requesting your participation in a special research project.”

The modifier there is “faithful supporter.” But who is that? Is it “Dean” or is it “we”? Grammatically, as this sentence is written, “we” (the organization) are the “faithful supporter” of the organization. Huh? That’s silly, of course, and doesn’t make sense—I knew they were referring to me—but if we take it at face value, that’s exactly what they are saying. “As a faithful supporter, we are requesting . . .”

Yes, I knew who they were talking about—that I was the faithful supporter, and they were asking for my help—but I had to pause for a second to mentally make that connection. When we begin a sentence with “as,” “like,” or “unlike,” we need to be extra careful about what comes next.

Maybe this would have been better: “Dear Dean: Because you are a faithful supporter of our organization, would you be willing to help us out with a special research project?”

Doesn’t that seem a bit clearer?

Watch out for misplaced modifiers.

If this post has been at all interesting or helpful to you, please let me know by liking it or writing a comment. Also feel free to share with someone who might appreciate it. Thanks!

Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, baseball bug, word lover, book hound, guitar picker, classical music aficionado, classic rock 'n' roll and movie buff, sinner, saint, former this, used-to-be that, and future who-knows-what. Every day is an adventure in learning how to make the world a better place--grammatically, anyway.

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