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Editing Tip: Avoiding Misplaced Modifiers

One common mistake made by many writers is not structuring the elements of a sentence in the clearest manner possible, especially with respect to modifiers.

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Modifiers are words, clauses, or phrases that describe certain other elements in a sentence. Consider the following statement:

  • The patient experienced severe pain in his right arm when lifting objects for three months.

The way it is written, this sentence suggests that the patient was lifting objects for three months (continuously!) and experienced pain while doing so. A more accurate version would be the following:

  • For three months, the patient experienced severe pain in his right arm upon lifting an object.

Here is another example:

  • Appropriate statistical tests were used to examine the correlations between variables, including Student’s t-tests, Spearman’s rank correlations, and Pearson’s correlations.

The way the sentence is currently written, the tests listed at the end of the sentence are equated with variables, which is incorrect. A better version of the sentence follows:

  • Appropriate statistical tests, including Student’s t-tests, Spearman’s rank correlations, and Pearson’s correlations, were used to examine the correlations between variables.

At times, rephrasing the modifier, rather than moving it, works better to clarify its role in the sentence. Consider the following situation:

  • Growing evidence suggests that plasma ACE activity, the key enzyme of the RAS, may be higher in adults with several cardiovascular disorders.

The modifier “the key enzyme of RAS” actually modifies “ACE” and not “activity.” Therefore, the sentence can be rearranged.

  • Growing evidence suggests that the plasma activity of ACE, the key enzyme of the RAS, may be higher in adults with several cardiovascular disorders.

A misplaced modifier can add confusion to a sentence, and we hope that this tip has helped you to avoid such misplaced modifiers! Please contact us at [email protected] with any questions or comments.

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