Do You Misplace Your Modifiers?

Misplaced modifiers happen when a word or group of words ends up modifying (giving information about) another word in the sentence. Often, the results are very funny.

I found this in one of my favorite magazines, The Week, which is a digest of articles from around the world. In an article on street food, with an accompanying recipe for Dan Dan Noodles (too complicated for me), Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau, chefs at a Philadelphia restaurant, V Street, declare, “We want the stuff that a little old lady is frying up in her flip-flops….”

Where to begin? First of all, how does the little old lady stand the heat? How does the food stay on her flip-flops? And do we really want to eat food cooked on a shoe and redolent of the odor of the foot that recently occupied that flip-flop?

Hungry?

You need to know that a modifier needs to be placed next to the word about which it gives information. Here’s an example:

“I met Harry only once before.” How many times did you meet Harry? “Only” once.

But here’s the problem: most people would write (and say), “I only met Harry once.” However, you didn’t “only” meet. You did meet. “Only” tells you how many times you met him: Once.

“Only” is the most commonly misplaced modifier. Others to watch out for are “hardly,” “even,” “scarcely,” “nearly,” “almost” and “just.”

Fix the modifiers in the following sentences:

1. “I almost ate the whole pizza.”
2. “The sweater was what Anna had been looking for in the store window exactly.”
3. “Paul’s boss nearly decided to pay him $700 a week.”

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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