3 Variations of Misplaced Modifiers

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When information is added to the main clause of a sentence to provide more detail, whether it is inserted directly or parenthetically, careful placement enhances comprehension. In each of the following sentences, modifying phrases are clumsily included. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and a revision demonstrates a solution.

1. Smith played Bozo the Clown from 1959 to 1970, a clown character particularly popular in the U.S. in the 1960s because of widespread franchising in television.

This sentence’s subordinate clause, which describes Bozo the Clown, follows not that epithet but rather a range of years, but the proper syntactical location for such a modifying phrase is immediately after its referent: “From 1959 to 1970, Smith played Bozo the Clown, a clown character particularly popular in the U.S. in the 1960s because of widespread franchising in television.”

2. Jones admitted he was nervous after his botched skating routine.

Here, the suggestion is that only after Smith finished the skating routine did he become nervous, but the intent of the sentence is to express that Smith’s state of nervousness before the routine contributed to his poor performance. The admission, not the nervousness, is what followed the routine, and the word order should clearly represent this fact: “Smith admitted after his botched skating routine that he had been nervous.”

3. Researchers found that face-to-face interactions contributed to a sense of well-being rather than contacts via computer.

Here, the syntax represents a sense of well-being and contacts via computer as possible outcomes of face-to-face interactions, but it is face-to-face interactions and contacts via computer that contribute to a sense of well-being. To clarify the relationships between the three phrases, the two forms of communication must be mentioned consecutively in counterpoint, with the outcome clearly distinguished at the end of the sentence: “Researchers found that face-to-face interactions, rather than contacts via computer, contributed to a sense of well-being.”

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1 thought on “3 Variations of Misplaced Modifiers”

  1. In the discussion of the second example (“Jones admitted he was nervous …”), Jones seems to have changed his name to Smith (“… Smith’s state of nervousness …”).

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