Misplaced WordsMany single-word modifiers are often misplaced; these include only, almost, just, even, merely, hardly, and nearly, for example.
Consider how the meaning of the following sentence changes, depending on where you place the word only:
Only Susie gave $20 at the fundraiser. (No one else but Susie gave $20.)One trick to help you avoid misplacing these types of modifiers is to place the modifier next to (or near) the word/words it modifies. For the above sentence, if you want only to modify $20, then use the third example.
Susie only gave $20 at the fundraiser. (The only thing Susie did was give $20.)
Susie gave only $20 at the fundraiser. (Susie didn’t give any more than $20.)
Susie gave $20 at the only fundraiser. (Susie gave $20 at the only available fundraiser.)
Susie gave $20 at the fundraiser only. (Susie didn’t give $20 anywhere else.)
Misplaced Phrases/ClausesPhrases and clauses are also regularly misplaced in writing.
My husband asked me if we might consider having another baby during our friends’ baby shower. (implies that the husband wants to have a baby during the shower)To correct these sentences, place the modifying phrase/clause closer to the word/words it modifies:
I found a new scratching post for my cat, which was on clearance at the pet store. (implies that the cat was on clearance)
During our friends’ baby shower, my husband asked me if we might consider having another baby.
I found a new scratching post, which was on clearance at the pet store, for my cat.
Dangling ModifiersA pet peeve of mine, the dangling modifier is usually a phrase or an elliptical clause (a dependent clause in which some words have intentionally been left out), often at the beginning of a sentence, that either doesn’t modify anything specific in the sentence or modifies the wrong word or part of the sentence.
Consider my introductory sentence:
As a freelance editor and proofreader, the misplaced or dangling modifier is a common writing error I see.Of course, you can probably figure out what I was trying to communicate, but the dangling modifier is distracting and creates ambiguity; it illogically implies that the modifier is actually a freelance editor and proofreader!
So how can I fix the sentence?
As a freelance editor and proofreader, I notice that many writers struggle with misplaced and dangling modifiers.Now, the introductory phrase (As a freelance editor and proofreader) correctly and logically modifies the pronoun I.
Remember the trick to place the modifier as close as possible to whatever it needs to modify, and you’ll avoid the majority of errors associated with modifier placement.