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Why Modifiers are Important: Humor and Horror

What if you want to make an innocent comment only to sound like a weirdo instead? Jumbling up the order of your words can create some awkward misunderstandings.

Misplaced modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that have been separated from the word it describes. These misplaced modifiers can change the meaning of what you intend to say.

Here are some examples of how to fix misplaced modifiers to add some humor and horror to your day. Just remember to check your own writing to make sure you’re not accidentally creating these types of mistakes!

Writing Tip 1: Identify what you’re describing

Where you place your words matters. Otherwise, you could be describing the wrong object. In the following example, ask yourself some critical questions. Who has a camera? Who is in the tree?

Move the description closer to the word the description is about, unless you actually saw a frog that owns a camera.

We saw a frog with a camera near the tree.

We used a camera to photograph a frog near the tree.

Writing Tip 2: Break your sentence into parts

If you break your sentence into smaller parts, you will have an easier time spotting any unintended meaning in your sentence. In the following sentence, you have three ideas: You noticed a dog. You were driving. You were listening to music.

The dog you observed didn’t have any special talents. It wasn’t driving anywhere. Make sure you move the description closer to what you’re describing to clarify any misunderstandings.

I noticed a dog driving down the street while listening to music.

I was driving down the street while listening to music when I noticed a dog.

Writing Tip 3: Rearrange the words

Clarify the meaning of your sentence in one or two easy steps. Just rearrange the order of the words.

Re-ordering your words can avoid awkward misunderstandings. After all, people don’t want to be put on dishes and offered as food.

They served cake to our family on fancy plates.

They served cake on fancy plates to our family.

Writing Tip 4: Flip the sentence around

You can rewrite your sentence by putting the last part of the sentence first. In this example, flipping your sentence around makes your meaning clearer. You also avoid animating some inanimate objects, and prevent food from walking around your house.

She smelled the soup opening the door to the dining room.

Opening the door to the dining room, she smelled the soup.

Writing Tip 5: Read your work out loud

It’s not easy to look at your own writing objectively, especially if you’re writing a report or email that needs completion right away. Your words sound clear to you, but could have a different meaning to someone else.

If you can, read your work out loud, or have an app read your work out loud. You may hear what your words sound like to someone else just by listening to where you pause, or where you emphasize your words.

Misplaced modifiers sound bizarre and funny when you describe the wrong word. Ask yourself if it makes sense to watch buildings grow out of mobile phones. It might be time to rewrite that sentence if the logic seems a bit off.

We watched a house getting built on my smartphone.

On my smartphone, we watched a house getting built.

Key Takeaways

The placement of your words matters. How you phrase your ideas can make the difference between clear writing and unintended confusion. Always take an extra moment to check your work.

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