Sentence Modifier Mistakes
by Zenobia Harris
A good ad is engaging, well-written, and informative. Sentence modifiers play an important role in making that happen. A modifier is a word or phrase that “modifies” i.e. clarifies or alters the meaning of another word in a sentence in some way.
Ex: From custom gift boxes to delicious cake pops, Sherri’s Treats has something sweet for everyone on your gift list.
In this example, the underlined modifier provides important information about the items offered at Sherri’s Treats. Modifiers are a crucial part of any ad, but what happens when modifiers are used incorrectly? Take a look at this sentence:
“Martha bought a dog for her sister named Spot.”
This sentence makes it seem like Martha’s sister is named “Spot,” but “Spot” is the dog’s name:
“Martha bought a dog named Spot for her sister.”
See how powerful modifiers can be? Our goal as writers is to craft clear, informative messaging, and misplaced modifiers can lead to confusing ads. Let’s delve into common sentence modifier mistakes and how they can be avoided.
Some of the modifier mistakes we’ll review today are types of misplaced modifiers. A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that is placed incorrectly in a sentence such that it doesn’t modify the intended word. Let’s take a look at an example:
Family-owned and operated since nineteen eleven, everyone can find quality clothing for less at Charlie’s Discount Store.
What’s wrong with the example? Everyone was not founded in nineteen eleven nor can a person be “family-owned and operated.” A better way of phrasing this statement might be:
Charlie’s Discount Store has been family-owned and operated since nineteen eleven. Everyone can find quality clothing for less at Charlie’s.
The revised version breaks the original sentence into two parts. Now the modifying phrase “family-owned and operated since nineteen eleven” modifies the intended subject “Charlie’s Discount Store.”
A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that doesn’t identify a subject or doesn’t modify the intended word. Here’s an example:
As the mom of three teens, its spacious interior provides plenty of room for their friends when I have to pick them up from practice.
The phrase “As the mom of three teens” doesn’t clearly identify a particular subject in the sentence above. We also know that the phrase “its spacious interior” doesn’t correlate to the modifier phrase “as the mom of three teens.” Let’s see how we can provide more context to the statement above. A better way to phrase the statement above would be:
As the mom of three teens, I enjoy the Buick Enclave’s spacious interior. It provides plenty of room for the kids and their friends when I have to pick them up from practice.
The underlined portion above gives context to the original statement.
A disruptive modifier is a word or phrase that interrupts a thought. It disrupts the natural flow of the sentence when placed between a verb and an object. Here’s an example:
You can get, with the discount code “SANTA,” ten percent off your next purchase.
The underlined phrase disrupts the natural flow of the sentence and feels out of place. A better way of phrasing this sentence:
You can get ten percent off your next purchase with the discount code “SANTA.”
In this version, the modifying phrase doesn’t disrupt the natural flow of the sentence.
Squinting or Ambiguous Modifiers
A squinting modifier is a modifying word or phrase that could be interpreted as modifying the text before or after the modifying phrase. Here’s an example:
Running uphill quickly strengthens your core.
The placement of the word “quickly” makes this sentence confusing. In its current form, the sentence has two meanings.
Depending on the intended meaning, there are two ways to correct the above statement:
Running uphill strengthens your core quickly.
In this example, “quickly” modifies “strengthens.”
You can strengthen your core by running uphill quickly.
In this example, “quickly” modifies “running uphill.”
Tips for Avoiding Modifier Mistakes
- Make sure the modifier is as close as possible to the word/phrase that it is intended to modify. Try to avoid placing words or phrases between the modifier and its object
- Read your sentences carefully after writing them
- Make sure simple adjectives precede the objects they’re modifying, and adjectives/adjective clauses immediately follow the objects they’re modifying
Simple adj. example: The brown dog
Adjective clause example: The dog with the brown fur
- Rearrange confusing sentences
- Use writing tools like Grammarly to check your spelling and grammar
Sentence modifier mistakes can be frustrating, but they’re often easy to fix or avoid if you know what you’re looking for. Need more guidance? Be sure to check the resource section frequently for more helpful writing tips!