CWM: #16 — Misplaced modifiers

Misplaced modifiers modify the wrong part of the sentence instead of what they intend to. They are fun to read though because they can sound silly. It makes more sense in practice, so here are some examples:

Running away from me, I stumbled after my dog.

Running away from me is the misplaced phrase because it modifies I. You can’t run away from yourself. (Or can you?) Running away from me intends to refer to the dog. A fix for this is to say I stumbled after my dog, who ran away from me.

I saw a cow on a farm heading into town.

Heading into town isn’t connected to I, who it intends to modify. So, instead, it’s like the cow is heading into town. Hope it finds what it’s looking for. A fix for this sentence is While heading into town, I saw a cow on a farm.

The waiter presented a burger to the customer that was well done.

The customer themselves isn’t well done. The burger is. So, the sentence needs to be moved around a bit. The waiter presented a well-done burger to the customer.

Flying over the area, the people looked so small.

Unless people can fly like planes, this sentence is incorrect. While the plane flew over the area, I looked out the window and noticed how the people looked so small.

Though misplaced modifiers can be fun, they’re not as fun for the readers who might have to reread the sentence to understand it. It’s hard to find them though if you haven’t seen them before. That’s why I gave a few examples.

One way to find them in your story is to go through a chapter at a time and check all the modifying phrases. These are usually toward the beginning and end of a sentence. Make sure the subject it’s beside is the one it should be modifying.

In the samples above, the modifier was away from the subject it was trying to modify. For example, well done was by the customer instead of the burger. Running away from me was beside I instead of my dog. Etc.

Another way to find them is by having others, like a beta or an editor, read your work. It’s much easier for someone to find misplaced modifiers in someone else’s work than their own.

I hope this helps!

Want more?

#1 — Using multiple adjectives
#2 — Vagueness for tension
#3 — Repeating words for emphasis
#4 — Common misused words
#5 — Misusing hyphens

#6 — Unnecessary details
#7 — Not developing characters
#8 — The words feel and felt
#9 — Overusing character names
#10 — Adding too many details with commas

#11 — Different types of dashes
#12 — Not using plain language
#13 — Dialogue tags vs. action beats
#14 — Misusing commas
#15 — No sentence variation

#17 — Characters with similar names
#18 — When to start new paragraphs

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