Misplaced modifiers are words or phrases that when read in the context of a sentence lend confusion, not clarity, to the meaning. As a general rule, the closer a modifier is to the word it modifies, the clearer a sentence will be.
- Incorrect: The chicken fryer seen on television only costs $19.95.
In this case, the word only modifies the wrong word, costs. Instead, the writer meant to modify the actual price:
- Correct: The chicken fryer seen on television costs only $19.95.
The following modifiers (almost, even, hardly, merely, nearly, and only) should appear just before the words meant for modification.
- The red, affordable car is merely two thousand dollars. (The phrase two thousand dollars is being modified, and not any other words in the sentence.)
- He almost never goes out at night. (The word goes is being modified, and the adverb never is the complement.)
Participial phrases can also confuse the reader. Sometimes, the result is humorous. Participial phrases end in –ing and can be used as adjectives, modifying nouns or pronouns.
- Incorrect: The evening passed by, eating popcorn and other snacks. (The evening ate popcorn?)
- Correct: We passed the evening eating popcorn and other snacks.
- Incorrect: After working on the assignment for hours, the rains came down in torrents. (The rains worked on the assignment?)
- Correct: After we worked outside on the assignment for hours, the rains finally came down in torrents.