How misplaced modifiers muck up your message

Adverbs and adjectives are wonderful helpers, except when they’re not. As in real estate, there are three key factors: location, location, location.

Our latest grammar lesson occurred when my son and I were listening to the novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

Me: So the song says, “I’m a one-eyed, one-horned flyin’ purple people eater.” Does that mean the monster is purple or that he eats purple people? Him: It means he’s purple and he eats purple people.

The lesson here was about modifiers and why their location in a sentence is important.

When used correctly, modifiers add interest and depth to your writing. When modifiers are used incorrectly, the reader may not understand the details of the sentence.

A misplaced modifier occurs when a word or phrase is placed too far from the word it describes. Because of this separation, it’s not clear what is being described in the sentence.

Misplaced modifiers can usually be avoided by placing the modifying word or phrase appropriately close to the word it modifies.

Unclear: The patient was referred to a specialist with severe bipolar disorder.

Better: The patient with severe bipolar disorder was referred to a specialist.

Unclear: Dr. Smith treated the patients using antidepressants.

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