Editing Tip: Modifier Placement

Mastering modifier placement is essential for clear writing. Misplaced modifiers can alter a sentence's meaning, while dangling modifiers leave the reader unsure of what's being modified. The article offers guidance on using modifiers effectively and avoiding common pitfalls.

Updated on April 18, 2024

A modifier is a part of a sentence that describes another group of words. However, modifiers are easy to misplace. Correct modifier placement can help writing read naturally and even affect meaning.

What Is a Modifier?

As the name suggests, a modifier modifies part of a sentence. Modifiers can take the form of adjectives, adverbs, or phrases.

To effectively use a modifier, you need to place it in a specific position to directly act upon the desired part of the sentence.

Modifiers can provide emphasis, descriptive details, and clarification to a sentence.

Nevertheless, it is easy to misplace modifiers, leading to confusion. If the reader does not know what the modifier is modifying or if they perceive it as modifying the wrong part of the sentence, the modifier is considered misplaced.

Misplaced Modifier

When using a modifier, you want to place it as close to the desired subject as possible to avoid confusion.

Consider this sentence:

  • “With foodstuff remnants, the researcher treated the soil.”

In this configuration, the modifier (“with foodstuff remnants”) is closer to the subject (“the researcher”) performing the action rather than the object being affected (“the soil”). To clarify that the researcher is applying this treatment to soil, the sentence can be rephrased as follows:

  • “The researcher treated the soil with foodstuff remnants.”

Another example is as follows:

  • “The patient sought treatment from the doctor with cancer.”

Did the doctor have cancer or the patient? It is more likely that the patient is seeking out treatment for their cancer, so the sentence should be rewritten as follows:

  • “The patient with cancer sought treatment from the doctor.”

Dangling Modifiers

Another common mistake with modifier use is a dangling modifier. With this issue, the modifier is modifying an implied object rather than a clearly stated object.

For example, the following sentence features a dangling modifier:

  • “Analyzing the data, the hypothesis was supported.”

This sentence can be clarified as follows:

  • “By analyzing the data, we determined that the hypothesis was supported.”
  • “The hypothesis was supported by the analyzed data.”

Use of Only

“Only” is a readily misplaced modifier. Carefully consider what is being emphasized with the use of “only”.

For instance, all of these sample sentences have different meanings based on the placement of “only”:

  • “Only IV fluid can treat dehydration.”
  • IV fluid is the sole treatment for dehydration.
  • “IV fluid can only treat dehydration.”
  • The one application of IV fluid to dehydration is treatment.
  • “IV fluid can treat only dehydration.”
  • The one condition that IV fluid can treat is dehydration.

Conjunctive Modifiers

Some examples of conjunctive modifiers are as follows:

  • Thus
  • Therefore
  • However
  • Nevertheless
  • Nonetheless
  • Hence
  • Moreover
  • Furthermore

In general, conjunctive modifiers should be preceded with a period or semicolon and followed by a comma.

For instance, the following sentence would need to be changed:

  • “The textile was manufactured from chitosan however the source of this chitosan was scarce.”

The following sentence would be considered correct:

  • “The textile was manufactured from chitosan; however, the source of this chitosan was scarce.”

While the above sentence represents the most common application of a conjunctive modifier, the following sentences are also considered correct:

  • “The skin of the apple is the part of the fruit with the most fiber. Therefore, one should eat the skin to boost their fiber content.”
  • “The skin of the apple is the part of the fruit with the most fiber. One should therefore eat the skin to boost their fiber content.”
  • “The skin of the apple is the part of the fruit with the most fiber, and therefore, one should eat the skin to boost their fiber content.”


We hope that these tips can assist in your writing and editing skills!

Sentence and paragraph structureConcise writingLanguage editingPrepositionClarity in writingWriting a manuscriptAuthor ResourcesGrammar
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