Grammar: Modifier

Posted January 28, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Ooh, baby, you can really have a ball with modifiers — and take your writing from the dreaded tell to the feeling show. Can you imagine reading a story without adjectives or adverbs!? How incredibly dull life would be!

Check out this sentence example as it goes from blah to ROFLMAO from Grammar Bytes!

Stephen dropped his fork.

Now, check this one out…does the picture change for you, *she asks, laughing*…?

Poor Stephen, who just wanted a quick meal  to get through his three-hour biology lab, quickly dropped his fork on the cafeteria tray, gagging with disgust  as a tarantula wiggled out of his cheese omelet, a sight requiring a year of therapy before Stephen could eat eggs again.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the adjective
  2. Blue indicates the adverb
  3. Purple indicates the infinitive
  4. Pale Gray indicates the participle
  5. Pale green indicates the preposition
  6. Orange indicates the absolute phrase
  7. Italics indicate the phrase
  8. Bold indicates the clause

As you can see — at least from the legend(!) — modifiers can be adjectives, adverbs, nouns, phrases, and clauses in any combination. And they’re the writer’s best friend when it comes to show!

Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that breathe life into sentences. They allow writers to take the picture that they have in their heads and transfer it accurately to the heads of their readers.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Modifier
Credit to: Grammar Bytes!; C.S. Lakin; Towson University
Definition: Any word, phrase, or clause which functions as an adjective or an adverb to describe a word or make its meaning more specific.

Post Contents:

Premodifier Definition: A modifier that comes before what it’s modifying.

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beautifully painted
movie projector
tall glass
wool blanket
Postmodifier Definition: A modifier that comes after what it’s modifying.

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glass of water
house on the corner
salesman on the right
sea of glass
Types of Modifiers:
Adjective Modifier Rule: Adjectives used as a modifier affect a noun or a pronoun.
Articles can also be considered adjectives.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the modifying adjective
  2. Blue indicates the modifying article
  3. Orange indicates the noun modifier
  4. Coral indicates the pronoun modifier

Mary threw the large beach ball.

George set another one on the grill.

Adjective Phrase Definition: Tells something about the noun it is modifying. The head (principal) word in an adjective phrase will be an adjective.

Rule: An adjective phrase can be a premodifier or a postmodifier.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the head adjective
  2. Italics indicate the phrase

That dress is one divine shade of red!

Karen is an unbelievably boring woman.

Can you believe how incredibly stupid Chad was?

This store sells cheap but well-made shoes.

Adverb Modifier Definition: Adverbs used as modifiers heighten the meaning by providing information about the place, time, manner, certainty, frequency, or other circumstances of activity. They are used in front of adjectives, other adverbs, or verbs.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the modifying adverb
  2. Yellow indicates the adjective modifier
  3. Orange indicates the adverb modifier
  4. Coral indicates the verb modifier

Brrr she thought. It’s even colder inside the house.

Wow, this is an unusually large house.

She is an amazingly pretty girl, Hank.

That puts an entirely different meaning on this article.

You’re saying that Henry accidentally chopped down the tree?

Hey, c’mon, I warned you it was a nearly monthly event!

Noun Modifier Definition: Two nouns used together show that one thing is a part of something else; it modifies the meaning of the primary noun (British Council).

A.k.a., noun adjunct, attributive noun, noun premodifier

For more details see the entry on noun modifiers in the “Noun” post.

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high school
ice cream
full moon
high tea
office worker
car door
library book
vegetable garden
Misplaced Modifiers
Definition: A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it describes. Sentences with misplaced modifiers often sound awkward, confusing, or downright illogical (Towson University).

It usually occurs when the writer gets ahead of him/herself.

Legend:

  1. Green will indicate the modifier

Examples include:

List of Frequently Misplaced Single Words
almost
even
exactly
hardly
just
merely
nearly
only
scarcely
simply
Misplaced Fixed
Sentences courtesy of Towson.edu
The vendor almost sold all of her pottery at the crafts fair. The vendor sold almost all of her pottery at the crafts fair.
She sold hamburgers to the children on paper plates.

So, what were the children who weren’t on paper plates going to eat?

She sold hamburgers on paper plates to the children.
The man walked toward the car carrying a briefcase.

Now THAT I want to see…a car carrying a briefcase…

The man carrying a briefcase walked toward the car.

Carrying a briefcase, the man walked toward the car.

We returned the toy to the store that was broken.

Whoa! How did the store get broken?

We returned the broken toy to the store.
Awkward Separation Definition: An awkward separation creates a confusing meaning.

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Misplaced Fixed
Many children have, by the time they are six, lost a tooth. By the time they are six, many children have lost a tooth.

Many children have lost a tooth by the time they are six.

Dangling Modifier Definition: A modifier that is in the wrong place in a sentence leaving the reader confused as to what, exactly, is being modified and a sentence that often sounds awkward, confusing, or downright illogical.

And it can frequently leave the reader laughing — and not what you may have intended!

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Dangling Fixed
Fresh out of school, finding a job was impossible.

Finding a job is not fresh out of school.

Finding a job is impossible when you’re fresh out of school.
Doctors see babies once they finish their residency.

No, babies don’t actually have to go through a residency. A childhood…

Once doctors finish their residency, they see babies.
They visited the lions at the zoo after they ate a zebra.

Who ate the zebra?

At the zoo, they visited the lions who had just eaten a zebra.
They are writing a newsletter for parents of teens who take drugs.

Are the parents or the teens taking the drugs?

They are writing a newsletter for parents whose teens are taking drugs.
This is a novel of betrayal by a famous author.

Wait, is this a novel in which a famous author betrays someone? Or is it a novel about betrayal which is written by a famous author?

This is a novel written by a famous author about betrayal.

This is a novel written by a famous author who betrayed someone.

This is a novel written about a famous author who betrayed someone.

Dangling Elliptical Clause Definition: An elliptical clause that does not refer clearly and logically to the subject of the sentence.

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Dangling Fixed
When just six years old, my grandmother tried to teach me ballet.

Um, when her grandmother was six years old she tried to teach her granddaughter ballet? I’m really impressed.

When I was just six years old, my grandmother tried to teach me ballet.
Dangling Gerund Rule: A gerund that does not refer clearly and logically to the subject of the sentence.

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Dangling Fixed
After roasting for three hours, we turned the oven off.

Ouch, must be kinda stupid if it took them three hours to realize they were cookin’.

After we roasted the turkey for three hours, we turned the oven off.
While drinking coffee, the lions approached our camp.

I’m impressed. Lions are drinking coffee.

While we were drinking coffee, the lions approached out camp.
Dangling Infinitive Rule: An infinitive that does not refer clearly and logically to the subject of the sentence.

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Dangling Fixed
To walk a high wire, a pole is needed for balance.

Dang, that is one impressive pole if it can walk a high wire!

A pole is needed for balance to walk a high wire.

To walk a high wire, an acrobat needs a pole for balance.

Dangling Participle Rule: a dangling participle that does not refer clearly and logically to the subject of the sentence.

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Dangling Fixed
Passing the building, the broken window was clearly visible.

Sounds like the broken window is passing the building.

The broken window was clearly visible when we were passing the building.
Once revised and corrected, I got an A.

Hmmm, does that revised and corrected mean that I am fixed now?

Once my paper was revised and corrected, I got an A.
Squinting Modifier Definition: A misplaced modifier that may describe two situations.

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Misplaced Fixed
I told my son when the game was over I would play with him. When the game was over, I told my son I would play with him.

I told my son I would play with him when the game was over.

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