3 More Misplaced Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Additional information must be placed carefully in a sentence to ensure that it is associated with the correct part of the sentence. Here are three sentences with misplaced modifiers, plus discussions and revisions.

1. “John Smith was the school’s first Lombardi Award winner in 1979, given to college football’s best lineman.”
This sentence implies that John Smith was the first of two or more teammates to win the Lombardi Award in 1979, and that 1979 was given to college football’s best lineman. However, the award is given to only one student-athlete each year, and “given to college football’s best lineman” modifies “Lombardi Award,” not 1979 (and not winner, so “in 1979” cannot be shifted to the end of the sentence without further modification of the sentence). This revision correctly places the modifying phrase and alters the verb phrase to allow “in 1979” to follow the parenthetical description of the award: “John Smith won USC’s first Lombardi Award, given to college football’s best lineman, in 1979.”

2. “The superintendent spoke about a Nazi-themed assignment given to students at a news conference.”
According to this statement, the students were given the assignment at a news conference. To clarify that the assignment was discussed, not assigned, at the conference, the reference to the conference should begin the sentence: “At a news conference, the superintendent spoke about a Nazi-themed assignment given to students.”

3. “Hydrogen and oxygen do not need an enzyme to create water because of their perfect valence electron pairing.”
The part of the sentence starting with because modifies the rest of the sentence. But the location of the modifying phrase sets up the possibility that the discussion will have a “not because [this], but because [that]” structure. For a clear reading of the sentence, start with the modifying phrase: “Because of their perfect valence electron pairing, hydrogen and oxygen do not need an enzyme to create water.”

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2 Responses to “3 More Misplaced Modifiers”

  • Yossi Mandel

    Number 3 is not worthy of you. There is no way that the sentence will result in the confusion you diagnose it with. The sentence can’t even cause the minimal pronoun confusion, as “their” can only refer to hydrogen and oxygen, enzyme being singular.

  • Dale A. Wood

    This note is so good, Mr. Nichol!

    There are so my writers nowadays who dangle THIS here, and dangle THAT there, with no regard for making the sentence fit together in a meaningful way. Dangling and mangling – the English language, that is…

    Furthermore, there are those foreigners who think that the way to write “English” is to use English words with Hungarian syntax….
    Feel free to replace the word “Hungarian” with Czech, Farsi, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Serbian, Turkish, Ukrainian, Yiddish, as you please.
    D.A.W.

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