10 Modes of Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

A modifier is a sentence element — a word or a phrase — that provides details. Three types of modifiers exist: those that qualify by answering the question of how or under what conditions something occurs, those that set conditions or explain circumstances by answering the question of who, what, when, where, and why, and those that provide reasons or conclusions.

Modifiers can also be classified into these categories:

1. Initial dependent clause: “Even though I was tired, I went for a walk.”

2. Initial infinitive phrase: “To calm down, I went for a walk.”

3. Initial adverb: “Immediately, I went for a walk.”

4. Initial participial phrase: “Trying to distract myself, I went for a walk.”

5. Mid-sentence appositive: “I, in an effort to calm down, went for a walk.”

6. Mid-sentence participial phrase: “I, trying to distract myself, went for a walk.”

7. Terminal present participial phrase: “I went for a walk, hoping to distract myself.”

8. Terminal past participial phrase: “I went for a walk, soothed by the breeze.”

9. Terminal resumptive phrase: “I went for a walk — a walk that did me good.”

10. Terminal summative phrase: “I went for a walk, an activity that calmed me down and distracted me from my troubles.”

And, for a bonus, employ a combination of phrases: “Even though I was tired, I, in an effort to distract myself, went for a walk, soothed by the breeze.”

Thanks to this variety of ways to modify a sentence, writers need not be concerned about producing pedestrian prose.

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4 Responses to “10 Modes of Modifiers”

  • Roxanne

    Yes, this is all grammatically correct, but both the mid-sentence appositive and the mid-sentence participial phrase are clunky and my writing tip is that you should avoid them. The general idea nowadays is to write as simply as possible and both these break that rule. My tip is that if you wouldn’t say it in general speech, you shouldn’t write it. “In an effort to calm down, I went for a walk” or “trying to distract myself, I went for a walk” would be preferable.

  • Marcin

    Very useful!

    Wouldn’t this sentence sound better, though, if we rewrote it a little:

    “Even though I was tired, in an effort to distract myself, I went for a walk, soothed by the breeze.”?

  • Mark Nichol

    Marcin:

    Yes, my sentence is clumsy, but the point is that you can combine several types of modifiers in one sentence.

    I would also distance the final phrase from the rest of the sentence: “Even though I was tired, in an effort to distract myself, I went for a walk, and I was soothed by the breeze.”

  • John

    The following example is incorrect.

    Mid-sentence appositive: “I, in an effort to calm down, went for a walk.”

    An appositive phrase is a noun or noun phrase that identifies the noun next to it. I is not a noun, and “in an effort to calm down” is a prepositional phrase.

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