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What Are Misplaced Modifiers and How to Fix Them?

Published by at August 18th, 2021 , Revised On November 12, 2021

When a clause, phrase, or word explains another part of a sentence, it is called a modifier. A misplaced modifier is incorrectly placed in a sentence in reference to the clause, phrase, or word it aims to clarify.

Example Misplaced Modifier

Barack Obama made history as the first African-American to become the USA president in 2008.

Because the modifier (in 2008) is improperly positioned in the above example, it appears as if the sentence is indicating that Barack Obama was the first African-American in that particular year to win the presidential elections.

However, if we place the modifier immediately before or after the clause it relates to – Barack Obama made history – then it would reflect the correct meaning exactly.

In 2008 Barack Obama made history as the first African-American to become the USA president.

Barack Obama made history in 2008 as the first African-American to become the USA president.

Fixing a Misplaced Modifier in a Sentence

It is relatively easy to fix a misplaced modifier in a sentence. All you need to do to fix it correctly is position the modifier in the sentence – right next to the word or clause it is supposed to describe.

Misplaced Corrected
  • The company ensured to provide services to the client that were highly professional.
  • The company ensured to provide highly professional services to the client.
  • The company ensured to provide services that were highly professional to the client.
  • The researcher decided to conduct research for his project that was primary.
  • The researcher decided to conduct primary research for his project.
  • The researcher decided to conduct research that was primary for his project.
  • He reached home and fell onto his bed exhausted due to work-related stress.
  • Exhausted due to work-related stress, he reached home and fell onto his bed.
  • He reached home exhausted due to work-related stress and immediately fell onto his bed.
  • Despite giving his best at work, the annual appraisal of the employee’s performance was poor.
  • Despite giving his best at work, the employee performed unsatisfactorily in the annual appraisal.

 

What Are Ambiguous Modifiers?

Even when the modifier is placed right next to the clause, phrase, or word it aims to describe, the sentence can still be ambiguous. In some cases, a correctly positioned modifier can alter the meaning of either the clause, phrase, or words that precede it or the ones that follow it, which makes the sentence nonsensical.

The students decided during their presentation they would read out the text from the slides.

But did the students take the decision during their presentation? Or will the students read out the text from the slides during the presentation? The placement of the modifier, whilst not incorrect, is still creating ambiguity.

You can fix the ambiguous modifier by either rephrasing the sentence to clearly explain the clause or phrase it aims to modify or by changing the position of the modifier in the sentence. In most cases, you can place the word “that” between the clause to be described and the modifier.

How to Fix an Ambiguous Modifier – Example 1

Ambiguous Modifier Corrected
  • The students decided during their presentation they would read out the text from the slides.
  • The students decided they would read out the text from the slides during their presentation.
  • The students decided that during their presentation they would read out the text from the slides.
  • During their presentation, the students agreed they would read out the text from the slides.

 

How to Fix an Ambiguous Modifier – Example 2

Ambiguous Modifier Corrected
  • The air hostess asked after the cockpit announcement the passengers should fasten their seat belts.
  • After the cockpit announcement, the air hostess asked the passengers should fasten their seat belts.
  • The air hostess asked the passengers should fasten their seat belts after the cockpit announcement.
  • The air hostess asked after the cockpit announcement that passengers should fasten their seat belts.

 

Placement of Adverb

Depending on their placement, adverbs such as nearly, around, almost,, only, especially, ironically, and more can considerably alter the meaning of a sentence. This generally leads to confusion and ambiguity for the readers.

To ensure that your sentence makes perfect sense, it is important that you recognize the clause, phrase, or word the adverb is changing.

Adverb Placement Examples

Adverb Placement Explanation
For the available vacancy, the hiring manager only interviewed Masters qualified candidates. The hiring manager interviewed Masters qualified candidates and did not take perform any other action like following up on the candidates or scheduling the interviews.
For the available vacancy, the hiring manager interviewed only Masters qualified candidates. The hiring manager interviewed people who were Masters qualified and not those who were less or more qualified.
Because Mike did not turn-on the auto-save feature, he lost nearly all of his work in Microsoft Word. Mike was in danger of completely losing his work in Microsoft Word.
Because Mike did not turn-on the auto-save feature, he nearly lost all of his work in Microsoft Word. Mike lost most of his work but not all of it.

 

About Alvin Nicolas

Nicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.