In grammar, a modifier (or qualifier) is a word or sentence element that limits or qualifies another word, a phrase. or a clause. In English, there are two kinds of modifiers: adjective, which modify nouns and pronouns, and adverbs, which modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. A modifier phrase is a phrase that acts as a modifier; English has adjective phrases and adverb phrases. Neither modifiers nor modifier phrases are usually required by a clause’s syntax; they are optional, and help clarify or limit the extent of the meaning of the word or phrase they modify. The construction of an appropriate sentence requires correct placement of every word. 

Adjectives distinctly play two roles: noun (and pronoun) modifiers and predicate adjectives.

As noun modifiers, adjectives always precede the nouns they modify, and can be subdivided into two main classes: determiners and descriptive adjectives

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Descriptive adjectives are the traditional modifiers we see immediately preceding the nouns. They describe or modify the noun to provide more information about it (e.g. old house, where “old” is the descriptive adjective). Most, but not all, descriptive adjectives have comparative and superlative forms. Determiners, on the other hand, are the modifiers that express the contextual reference of that noun or noun phrase. 

Some adjectives are followed by certain specific prepositions:

Examples of adjectives Preposition
Angry, annoyed, anxious, certain, excited, happy, pleased, right, sorry, upset, nervous. About
Amazed, bad, excellent, good, hopeless, lucky, surprised, useless At
Amused, bored, impressed, shocked, surprised. By
Famous, late, ready, sorry, responsible, suitable. For
Absent, different, safe, tired. From
Interested, involved In
Keen On
Afraid, ashamed, capable, aware, certain, confident, critical, envious, fond, full, guilty, incapable, jealous, kind, nice, proud, scared, short, stupid, sure, suspicious, terrified, tired, typical. Of
Accustomed, engaged, kind, generous, inferior, married, polite, possible, rude, superior, similar. To
Friendly, patronizing Towards
Angry, annoyed, bored, busy, content, crowded, delighted, disappointed, familiar, friendly, furious, happy, occupied, pleased, satisfied. With

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Of the three, its most common function is modifying verbs. However, adverbs CANNOT modify a linking verb; they can only modify action verbs. In the case of the linking verbs, an adjective is used to describe/modify it, and usually follows rather than precedes it. E.g. Being good, Appeared intelligent, Remains faithful)

Adverbs that modify verbs have several characteristics that make them quite easy to identify: they answer adverb questions directed at the verb in the sentence (when, where, how, why, how often) 

Examples: When did they move the car? Yesterday (Yesterday is an adverb that modifies the verb), Where did they move the car? There (There is an adverb that modifies the verb), How did they move the car? Carefully (an adverb that modifies the verb), How often do they use the car? Frequently (again, modifies the verb).

Adverbs that modify verbs are also movable, unlike the adjectives that modify linking verbs (they can only be placed after the verb). In contrast, adverbs that modify adjectives are immobile: they cannot be moved away from the adjective they modify.

Example for adverbs that modify verbs: They moved the car yesterday

                                                                    Yesterday they moved the car

Example for adverbs that modify adjectives: A completely false statement

                                                                           A false statement completely

Adverbs that modify other adverbs are easy to recognize. They are locked into place immediately in front of the adverbs they modify. They are often called intensifiers: they emphasize the meaning of the adverb they modify.

Example: I always take my homework very seriously. 

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Misplaced and dangling modifiers are both about the erroneous usage of modifiers in sentences. In order to spot and correct these two forms of modifier errors, it is first essential that you know how to recognize what these errors look like.

Misplaced Modifiers

When a writer shoots off topic mid- sentence, he/she often puts in too much of a distance between the modifier and its target, leading to the formation of a misplaced modifier.

Here’s an example of the modifier error in a sentence, for demonstration:

Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, envious looks were shot Roland’s way as the other picnickers quenched their own thirst.”

In the above sentence, the subject is picknickers, which seems to be described by the participle phrase “Sucking warm water from a rubber hose”.


Subject: Picknickers

Action: Quenching of thirst

Modifier (because it is describing the subject): Sucking warm water from a rubber hose

So, ideally, this participle phrase acting as a modifier should be placed near the noun (subject) being modified. But since the noun “picknickers”, is so far away, the phrase seems to be modifying envious looks, which don’t even have the mouths to suck the warm water!

Dangling Modifiers

If the sentence that the author is writing fails to include a target (the subject), the modifier is said to be dangling.

Here’s an example of the dangling error in a sentence, for demonstration:

“With a sigh of pleasure, consumption of cucumber sandwiches commenced.”

In the above sentence, it has not been specified who is performing the action of consuming the cucumber sandwich. Thus, we assume that Roland is the one sighing with pleasure and eating cucumber sandwiches, but notice that he’s not in the sentence, so we can’t tell for sure! This ambiguity leads to errors, and is in fact grammatically incorrect.

The solution.

Misplaced and dangling modifiers make sentences awkward and incoherent. They keep sentences from expressing clear, straightforward ideas. When you discover a misplaced or dangling modifier in a sentence, you will need to rearrange and/or revise the sentence parts to untangle the idea the sentence wants to express.

Misplaced Modifiers

Rearranging sentence parts will often fix a misplaced modifier. All you need to do is ensure that most modifiers come as close to their targets as possible.

Here is the original error:

“Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, envious looks were shot Roland’s way as the other picnickers quenched their own thirst.”

If we move things around, the modifier hits the right target:

“Sucking warm water from a rubber hose, the other picnickers quenched their own thirst as they shot envious looks Roland’s way.”

Now we have picnickers drinking from the rubber hose, and that is definitely clear and logical!

Dangling Modifiers

To fix a dangling modifier, you will need to add a target to the sentence and then tweak the remaining words to make sense.

Here is the original error without a logical target:

“With a sigh of pleasure, consumption of cucumber sandwiches commenced.”

Notice that the addition of a target makes the sentence clear:

“With a sigh of pleasure, Roland began to consume cucumber sandwiches.”

Because the above sentence is significantly clear, it now becomes evident that Roland began to consume cucumber sandwiches after sighing with pleasure, so that now we actually are aware of who ate the sandwiches.

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