Conjunctions and Modifiers Help (page 2)

Updated on Sep 28, 2011


Parts of Speech: A Brief Review

A word's function and form is determined by its part of speech. The word calm, for example, can be either a verb (calm down) or an adjective (a calm afternoon); it changes to calmly when it is an adverb (they discussed the matter calmly). Be sure you know the different parts of speech and the job each part of speech performs in a sentence.

Phrases and Modifiers

Sentences are often "filled out" by phrases and modifiers. Phrases are groups of words that do not have both a subject and predicate; they might have either a subject or a verb, but not both, and sometimes neither. Modifiers are words and phrases that qualify or describe people, places, things, and actions. The most common phrases are prepositional phrases, which consist of a preposition and a noun or pronoun (e.g., in the attic). Modifiers include adjectives (e.g., slow, blue, excellent) and adverbs (e.g., cheerfully, suspiciously). In the following examples, the prepositional phrases are underlined and the modifiers are in bold:

    He was very late for an important meeting with a new client.
    He brazenly took her wallet from her purse when she got up from the table to go to the ladies' room.

Placement of Modifiers

As a general rule, words, phrases, or clauses that describe nouns and pronouns should be as close as possible to the words they describe. The relaxing music, for example, is better (clearer, more concise and precise) than the music that is relaxing. In the first sentence, the modifier relaxing is right next to the word it modifies (music).

When modifiers are not next to the words they describe, you not only often use extra words, but you might also end up with a misplaced or dangling modifier and a sentence that means something other than what was intended. This is especially true of phrases and clauses that work as modifiers. Take a look at the following sentence, for example:

    Racing to the car, I watched him trip and drop his bag.

Who was racing to the car? Because the modifier racing to the car is next to I, the sentence says that I was doing the racing. But the verb watched indicates that he was the one racing to the car. Here are two corrected versions:

    I watched as he raced to the car and dropped his bag.
    I watched as, racing to the car, he dropped his bag.

In the first sentence, the phrase racing to the car has been revised to raced to the car and given the appropriate subject, he. In the second sentence, racing to the car is right next to the modified element (he).

Here's another example:

    Growling ferociously, I watched as the lions approached each other.

It's quite obvious that it was the lions, not the speaker, that were growling ferociously. But because the modifier (growling ferociously) isn't right next to what it modifies (the lions), the sentence actually says that I was growling ferociously. Here's the corrected version:

    I watched as the lions, growling ferociously, approached each other.

Again, the sentence is clearer now because the modifier is right next to what it modifies.

Sometimes these errors can be corrected simply by moving the modifier to the right place (next to what it modifies). Other times, you may need to add a subject and verb to clarify who or what is modified by the phrase. Here are some more examples of misplaced and dangling modifiers and their corrections:

Incorrect: Worn and tattered, Uncle Joe took down the flag.
Correct: Uncle Joe took down the flag, which was worn and tattered. OR Uncle Joe took down the worn, tattered flag.
Incorrect: While making breakfast, the smoke alarm went off and woke the baby.
Correct: While I was making breakfast, the smoke alarm went off and woke the baby. OR The smoke alarm went off and woke the baby while I was making breakfast.


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