3 More Cases of Misplaced Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

When sentence elements that provide additional, nonessential information are not positioned in proximity to the word or phrase they directly pertain to, the sentence is often awkward at best and confusing at worst. Each example below demonstrates how misplacing a reference to a year or a point in time may muddle the meaning of a sentence; discussion and revision provide a solution to each problem.

1. He was a part of the first lineup in team history to make the playoffs in 1978.

The sentence reads nonsensically as if the lineup was the first to get to the playoffs in a particular year, but the point is that it was the first to do so in the team’s history; the year of the achievement is identified as an afterthought. To avoid the implication that the particular year is integral to the achievement rather than incidental to it, the year should be set off from the keyword playoffs, and the best place for the phrase “in 1978” is at the head of the sentence: “In 1978, he was a part of the first lineup in team history to make the playoffs.”

2. It became a second home for Jones in 1995, whose mother died from cancer that same year.

The adjective/noun phrase whose mother is associated with Jones, so the two sentence elements should be adjacent and not interrupted. As with the previous example, relocate “in 1995” as an introductory phrase: “In 1995, it became a second home for Jones, whose mother died from cancer that same year.”

3. A quick search of the vehicle revealed thirty bottles of hard liquor, a case of hard lemonade, a jar of marijuana, and a pile of prescription drugs in one girl’s purse, police said.

This sentence implies that all the items were found in the (necessarily massive) purse, but the intended meaning is clear when the modifying phrase “in one girl’s purse” is located parenthetically before the final item in the list to specify that that is the only item found in the purse: “A quick search of the vehicle revealed thirty bottles of hard liquor, a case of hard lemonade, a jar of marijuana, and, in one girl’s purse, a pile of prescription drugs, police said.”

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1 Response to “3 More Cases of Misplaced Modifiers”

  • thebluebird11

    Yep that is one big damn purse!! Maybe it was Mary Poppins gone rogue!

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