My method for demonstrating these predictable sentence problems is to use simplified sentences that illustrate the problem and solution clearly and to conclude with some long sentences in which the problem is almost hidden. Additional practice and explanation can be found on the Internet which lists hundreds of thousands of Web sites dealing with the topic.
Question: What are “misplaced modifiers” and how do I correct them?
Answer: Like dangling modifiers, misplaced modifiers are often funny. “She walked the dog wearing a short skirt.”
Solution: Is the dog wearing a short skirt? No. “She” is. Put the modifier, “...wearing a short skirt,” next to the person to whom it belongs. “Wearing a short skirt, she walked the dog.” [Of course, I’m way off base if the person writing this sentence had a dog who wore a short skirt.]
Want some more examples? Below are three additional examples from Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, p. 304.
Misplaced modifier: “The company now runs a late bus for skiers leaving at 6:15.” Who or what is leaving at 6:15? The bus.
Corrected: “For skiers, the company now runs a late bus leaving at 6:15.” Put the modifier, “…leaving at 6:15…” next to word it modifies, “a late bus.”
Misplaced modifier: “One of the observers sighted a plane through binoculars that she could not identify.” Sounds as if she could not identify the binoculars, but it was the plane she could not identify.
Corrected: Put “that she could not identify” next to “…a plane….” Through binoculars, one of the observers sighted a plane that she could not identify.”
Misplaced modifier: “The mystery has been solved after ten years of the missing portrait.” The “mystery” is about the “…missing portrait.”
Corrected: “The mystery of the missing portrait has been solved after ten years.”
Rule for misplaced modifiers: place the modifier as close as possible to the word it modifies.
Again, readers will be able to figure out the meaning of a sentences with a misplaced modifier, but will be distracted for a moment as they try to make sense of what belongs to what in the sentence.
Below are some longer examples of misplaced modifiers, more difficult to recognize than in short sentences. These examples are from Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, 1986.
Misplaced modifier: “The big schooner was steered through the channel by a daring skipper without running lights or motor about midnight.” p. 304. The “skipper” is not without “running lights or motor.”
Corrected: “About midnight, the daring skipper steered the big schooner without lights or motor through the channel.” [Note: I also changed the passive to active.]
Misplaced modifier: “Detectives narrowed down the number of the houses where the robbers might strike by deduction.” p. 307. Who is using “deduction?” The detective are.
Corrected: “By deduction, detectives narrowed down the number of the houses where the robbers might strike.”
For more practice, type “misplaced modifiers” in the Google search engine and you will find 193,000 Web sites dealing with that problem.
Next: parallel structure. Following that topic, I will suggest how to help you identify these problems in your own writing.
All the best. RayS.