The question posed for this month is "Critiquers have nailed my writing for misplaced modifiers. How can I recognize them and stop making this mistake."
Misplaced modifiers are common grammatical errors where a clause, phrase, adverb, or adjective is inappropriately separated from the word it modifies or describes. This type of error often happens during the heat and speed of drafting a story. This post will be about misplace modifiers— not dangling modifiers, which is a subject unto itself.
Whether a misplaced modifier comes at the beginning of a sentence or later in the sentence, the result is awkward— often illogical, unintentional, even humorous— imagery when read. For example:
CLAUSES— at the beginning of a sentence (notice this is an introductory clause)—
After fixing the prairie schooner's wheel, the horses pulled the load down the road. (Can horses fix wagons wheels?)
PHRASES— at the end of a sentence—
Marsha noticed the fence behind the house made of barbed wire. (A house made of barbed wire?)
Or even, John spotted the airplane using binoculars. (An airplane using binoculars?)
ADVERBS—Misplaced use of adverbs often changes the meaning of a sentence. The most common "Red Flag" adverbs to look for are only, just, nearly, merely, and almost. Examples include—
Just Marsha was picked as prom queen.
Marsha was just picked as prom queen.
John only donated ten dollars to the camp fund.
Only John donated ten dollars to the camp fund.
ADJECTIVES—Like adverbs, placing an adjective in the wrong position changes the meaning and imagery of a sentence:
Marsha ate two slimy bowls of spaghetti.
Marsha ate two bowls of slimy spaghetti.
Catching misplaced modifiers— be they clauses, phrases, adverbs, or adjectives— is best done by slowly reading the manuscript out loud and visualizing the actions, the cause-effect sequences, and being mindful of clarity.
Since grammar checkers don't usually flag misplaced modifiers, it is helpful to go old-school and diagram the sentence that has been flagged for a misplaced modifier. For example—
Coated with ketchup and mustard, I enjoyed the
Actually it was the hamburger that was coated in ketchup and mustard. Diagramming the sentence nets—
Remember, readers are not mind readers, they only have the words on a page to go by. It is in the revision process that you can more clearly look at what you wrote and get the words right.
P.S. Feel free to share one or two of your misplaced modifiers and brighten my day. ☻
******Next month - September 2018 — How to Start a Blog (why and when)
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