Make Your Editor Cry: Misplaced Modifiers

Make Your Editor Cry:  Misplaced Modifiers

When participial phrases modify a noun other than the one intended, it’s called a misplaced modifier. This makes sense because it’s a modifier (an adjective), and it’s in the wrong place. One great thing about them is that they’re usually hilarious.

Example:

Covered in mustard and relish, I enjoyed eating the hot dog.

Covered in mustard and relish is a misplaced modifier. It contains the participle covered, and it’s modifying the wrong word. As the sentence is written, covered in mustard and relish is modifying I, but that doesn’t make much sense. The intended meaning of the sentence is probably that the hot dog was covered in mustard and relish, but it reads as I was covered in mustard and relish.

To fix misplaced modifiers, move them so that they come immediately before or after the noun or pronoun they’re modifying. Here’s one way that you could fix that sentence.

Example:

I enjoyed eating the hot dog covered in mustard and relish.

Though awkward, the phrase covered in mustard and relish is now a standard participial phrase because it immediately follows the noun it is intended to modify. It’s no longer misplaced because it properly modifies hot dog.

As an aside, to fix the sentence, write it more clearly in the first place. Do this by promoting the adverbial participle to an active verb and make the sentence character centric by describing the character’s actions with the active verb.

I covered the hot dog in mustard and relish and enjoyed eating it.

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