Grammar Tip: Misplaced Modifiers
This grammar tip describes misplaced modifiers—a common error in sentence structure involving the
order of words.
A misplaced modifier has not been lost. Rather, it has been incorrectly placed in a sentence,
thereby describing the wrong word or phrase. Adjectives and adverbs are easily misplaced, producing unclear—and possibly humorous—results.
In the following example, the phrase for two months appears to
describe the verb walking—a long time to be on the move! Moving
the phrase to a new position solves the problem.
The 49-year-old patient experienced severe pain in the left heel when walking for two months.
For two months, the 49-year-old patient experienced severe pain in the left heel when walking.
The next example shows how repositioning just one word can change the meaning of a sentence.
The word only modifies the word that directly follows it. To compare
the meaning of the sentences, emphasize the words in bold as you read.
Only eradication of this disease can be achieved through immunization.
(Eradication, but no other outcome, can be achieved.)
Eradication of only this disease can be achieved through immunization.
(Eradication of this disease, but not of any other, can be achieved.)
Eradication of this disease can only be achieved through immunization.
(Eradication can be achieved, but no other action can occur.)
Eradication of this disease can be achieved only through immunization.
(Eradication can be achieved through immunization but not by any other
Any of these alternatives may be possible, depending on the author's intended meaning.
Quick Tips: Misplaced Modifiers
- Place words and groups of words beside, or as close as possible to, the words that they are
- Place words such as only, almost, and
even just before the word that you want them to describe.
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