Another 3 Cases of Misplaced Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Modifiers—phrases that provide additional information—are easily (and therefore often) misplaced, creating syntactical confusion. Here are three such sentences, each followed by a discussion and a revision.

1. I will follow up with some of the questions I did not have a chance to address in a future post.

This sentence reads as if the writer presciently knows that he or she will be unable to address certain questions when he or she writes a subsequent post and will follow up at an even later time. What the writer means is that the questions will be addressed in a future post because he or she was unable to do so in the post in which the statement was written. That intended meaning is clearly stated in the following revision: “I will follow up in a future post with some of the questions I did not have a chance to address.” Even better, begin the sentence with the modifying phrase: “In a future post, I will follow up with some of the questions I did not have a chance to address.”

2. Most recently, a bill was proposed in Congress, dubbed the Financial Services Innovation Act of 2016, which seeks to create a financial services innovative office.

Here, Congress is mistakenly given the name of a legislative act. But the parenthetical phrase in which the act is named pertains to bill, not Congress, so the phrase must appear immediately adjacent to the pertinent word: “Most recently, a bill, the Financial Services Innovation Act of 2016, was proposed in Congress that seeks to create a financial services innovative office.” (Alternatively, shuffle the sentence’s components around, keeping the appositives “a bill” and “the Financial Services Innovation Act of 2016” adjacent to each other, for this result: “Most recently, the Financial Services Innovation Act of 2016, a bill that seeks to create a financial services innovative office, was proposed in Congress.”

3. She and her husband started the firm that builds windows and curtain walls in their basement eleven years ago.

The location of the phrase “eleven years ago” paradoxically implies that the firm continues to build the products at a previous point in time. However, the phrase refers not to when the construction occurred, but to when the company that does the construction began operations. It is best situated at the beginning of the sentence: “Eleven years ago, she and her husband started the firm that builds windows and curtain walls in their basement.”

However, this sentence has another misplaced modifier that must be addressed—the windows and walls themselves were presumably not built in the basement; the point is that the company was started there, so further revision is called for. In this case, simply setting the phrase describing the purpose of the company off from the main clause as a nonessential phrase helps focus the sentence’s emphasis: “Eleven years ago, she and her husband started the firm, which builds windows and curtain walls, in their basement.”

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1 Response to “Another 3 Cases of Misplaced Modifiers”

  • Benjamin Wagner

    This article’s content is useful. In my opinion, however, the second example sentence needs further editing. Apart from the passive voice, the “a bill…was proposed” construction fails to keep related words together.

    To correct all three grammatical flaws (the misplaced modifier, passive voice, and separated subject-verb), simply make “Congress” the subject:
    “Most recently, Congress proposed the Financial Services Innovation Act of 2016, a bill that seeks to create a financial services innovative office.”

    For even more concision, replace “a bill that” with “which”.

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