Modifiers: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Good and Well

Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb. Sometimes, good is mistakenly used to describe a verb. Use well to describe an action. The words modified by good and well are underlined in these examples.

      Brenton did well on the test.
      Raul felt good after the marathon.
      The new marketing strategy was well planned.
      The lasagna smelled good when I walked through the door.


Adjectives and adverbs change form when they are used in comparisons. When you compare two items, use the comparative form of the modifier. If you are comparing more than two items, use the superlative form of the modifier.

The comparative form is created in one of two ways:
  1. Add-er to the modifier if it is a short word of one or two syllables.
  2. Place the word more or the word less before the modifier if it is a multisyllable word.

In addition, some modifiers change form completely. Examine the samples in the following table. The first six lines of the table illustrate these special modifiers that change form. The rest use the two rules previously mentioned.

Modifiers in Comparisons

When comparing items in a prepositional phrase, use between for two items and among for three or more. Look at how the comparative and superlative forms are used in the following sentences.

      Up is the better direction for the stock market to be going. [comparing two directions]
      Blue looks better than any other color we've seen. [comparing two colors many times]
      The classic coupe is the best luxury car available. [comparing more than two cars]
      The Mississippi is the best river for walleye fishing. [comparing more than two rivers]
      The first run model was more thoroughly tested than the prototype. [comparing two things]

Avoid Illogical or Unclear Comparisons

"Ellie is more disorganized than any woman" is an illogical statement. It implies that Ellie, who is a woman, is more disorganized than herself. Always include the words other or else to keep your comparisons from being illogical.

      Ellie is more disorganized than any other woman.
      Ted can concentrate better than anyone else in our division.

Avoid Double Comparisons

A double comparison occurs when a writer uses both-er or-est and more or most. The following table provides examples of common mistakes and how to correct them.

Double Comparisons

Avoid Double Negatives

When a negative word is added to a statement that is already negative, a double negative results. Avoid double negatives in your writing. The words hardly and barely can cause problems; they function as negative words. In the following example sentences, the negative words are highlighted. Pay close attention to how the incorrect sentences are rewritten to avoid the double negative.

Double Negatives

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Misplaced Modifiers

Place words, phrases, or clauses that describe nouns and pronouns as closely as possible to the words they describe. Failure to do this often results in a misplaced modifier—and a sentence that means something other than what was intended.


For example, the words only, almost, and just should be placed as closely as possible to the word described. The best place is right before the words they describe. The placement of the word affects the meaning of the sentence.

      The customers only looked at two samples.
      The customers looked at only two samples.

In the first sentence, the customers "only looked" at the samples; they didn't touch them. In the second sentence, the customers looked at "only two," not three or four, samples. The placement of only changes the meaning.

Here's an example with almost:
      Chad almost scored three touchdowns.
      Chad scored almost three touchdowns.

In the first version, Chad "almost scored" three times—he must have come close to the goal line three times without actually crossing. In the second version, Chad scored "almost three" touchdowns—maybe 2.2 touchdowns. How many points are awarded for that?

Here's how placing just can affect the meaning of a sentence:
      The Hill family just leases a car.
      The Hill family leases just a car.

In the first version, the Hill family "just leases" a car, so they don't own or buy a car. In the second, they lease "just a car," not a truck or a van or any other vehicle.

Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and clauses that describe nouns or pronouns must also be placed as closely as possible to the words they describe. The sentences in the following table contain misplaced modifiers. Pay close attention to how they are rewritten to clarify the meaning.

Misplaced Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

Words, phrases, or clauses that begin a sentence and are set off by commas sometimes mistakenly modify the wrong noun or pronoun. These are called dangling modifiers. The following sentences contain dangling modifiers. Pay close attention to how the sentences are rewritten to avoid the problem.

Misplaced Modifiers


Practice what you have learned in this lesson by listening to others speak. Many people make mistakes with modifiers as they speak. When you hear such a mistake, think about how you might rephrase what the person said to make it correct. Once again, don't feel compelled to correct the mistakes; just use them as opportunities for mental practice so that no one will have the opportunity to correct you.

A practice exercise for this concept can be found at Modifiers: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercise.

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