Grammar Quiz #4: Misplaced Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences includes a modifying phrase that is incorrectly or awkwardly placed; revise the sentences as necessary:

1. I told my parents I wanted to transfer many times during that first semester.

2. Schools are wising up to the benefits of integrating technology into classroom instruction, but access still ends with the school day for too many students.

3. All students should have the opportunity to be a peer mentor, not just those the teacher views as capable or who have high test scores.

4. The plan was to incorporate the school into the courthouse itself until the Oklahoma City bombing created safety concerns.

5. Although DNA testing is highly effective, those involved in criminal investigations do not always use it because of its high cost.

Answers and Explanations

Modifiers — words or phrase that provide additional information — must be located so that they apply to the noun or noun phrase they modify. Even if a modifier is logically correct, however, it generally should not be placed at the end of the sentence, a position reserved for important information.

1.
Original: I told my parents I wanted to transfer many times during that first semester.
Correct : Many times during that first semester, I told my parents I wanted to transfer.
Alterna.: I told my parents many times during that first semester that I wanted to transfer.

The original sentence implies that the writer wished to repeatedly transfer, not that he repeatedly expressed his wish to transfer.

2.
Original: Schools are wising up to the benefits of integrating technology into classroom instruction, but access still ends with the school day for too many students.
Correct : Schools are wising up to the benefits of integrating technology into classroom instruction, but for too many students, access still ends with the close of the school day.

The original syntax is not incorrect, but the sentence ends weakly.

3.
Original: All students should have the opportunity to be a peer mentor, not just those the teacher views as capable or who have high test scores.
Correct : All students, not just those the teacher views as capable or who have high test scores, should have the opportunity to be a peer mentor.

In the original sentence, the parenthetical is too far removed from the subject.

4.
Original: The plan was to incorporate the school into the courthouse itself until the Oklahoma City bombing created safety concerns.
Correct : Until the Oklahoma City bombing created safety concerns, the plan was to incorporate the school into the courthouse itself.

The original sentence implies that the incorporation of the schoolhouse was deliberately temporary, and that the plan was to wait until the expected bombing occurred to relocate it. However, the intended meaning is that the unexpected bombing prompted a change in the proposal.

5.
Original: Although DNA testing is highly effective, those involved in criminal investigations do not always use it because of its high cost.
Correct : Although DNA testing is highly effective, because of its high cost, those involved in criminal investigations do not always use it.

The original placement of the modifying phrase “because of its high cost” at the end of the sentence incorrectly implies that DNA testing is always used not for its high cost but for another reason.

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5 Responses to “Grammar Quiz #4: Misplaced Modifiers”

  • Mister Furkles

    In number 4, what does the word ‘itself’ contribute? I understand its use where confusion may occur . For example, “The line is looped through the hook and tied back onto itself.” Or “He had to do it himself.” (In the context where others had failed to do it.)

  • ApK

    For #5, I don’t think the original form is particularly bad, but I certainly don’t think the revised form is better. It has the same (slight) potential for ambiguity, and it doesn’t read as well.

    I would rephrase it as:
    DNA testing is highly effective, but because of its high cost, those involved in criminal investigations do not always use it.

  • Lynn

    I agree, ApK. With the revised sentence, some might think “because of its high cost” explains why DNA testing is highly effective. Your suggested wording removes all ambiguity and reads well.

  • venqax

    Removing that comma in number 5 fixes the ambiguity problem.
    “Although DNA testing is highly effective, because of its high cost those involved in criminal investigations do not always use it.”
    The comma after cost seems unnecessary as even confusing.

  • Precise Edit

    This topic reminds me of a joke…

    I was chatting with a girl yesterday, and I told her I was thinking of running a marathon again.

    She was impressed. “You’ve run a marathon before?”

    I said, “No, but I’ve thought about it.”

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