A Guide To Modifiers

Modifiers refer to words or phrases that make specific meaning of another word or phrase. To modify is to change or alter how something looks or is perceived. Therefore, a modifier simply means a word that qualifies, changes, limits, or clarifies a word in a sentence to lay emphasis, give detail or explanation. Simply put, a modifier is a describer.

As such, modifiers tend to be words that describe, such as adverbs and adjectives. Also, modifiers are demonstratives, prepositional phrases, possessive determiners, intensifiers, and degree modifiers. An adjective modifies a noun while the adverb modifies a verb.

Any modifier that appears before the head is called “a premodifier,” and one that appears after the head is called “a postmodifier.” The head, on the other hand, refers to the word being modified in a sentence. When a modifier is essential to the meaning of the sentence, it is said to be “restrictive.” At the same time, if it serves its sentence as an additional but nonessential element, it is said to be “nonrestrictive.”

Modifiers are essential in English language; they aid in effective and efficient writing and reading. Even more, modifiers help to enhance how people communicate daily. Also, they are sometimes referred to as the nuance of the English language as they add, shades, degree sand qualifications to meaning.

Grammatical Modifiers

The English language contains five different grammatical modifiers.

  • Noun phrase modifier

This is a word, phrase, or clause that describes a noun or a noun phrase. The grammatical forms that perform the functions of a noun phrase modifier are Noun phrases, Verb phrases, Adjective phrases, Prepositional phrases, and Adjective (relative) clauses

  • Verb phrase modifiers

These are words or phrases that describe a verb or a verb phrase in a sentence. The grammatical form that performs the functions of a verb phrase modifier in the English language is the adverb phrase.

  • Adverb Phrase Modifiers

These are words that describe an adverb or adverb phrase. The grammatical form that performs the functions of the adverb phrase modifier in the English language is the adverb phrases.

  • Adjective Phrase Modifiers

These are words, clauses, or phrases that modify an adjective or adjective phrase. The grammatical forms that perform the functions of an adjective phrase modifier are Adverb phrases, Prepositional phrases.

  • Adverbials

These modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that modify an entire clause in a sentence by giving additional information about the place, manner, time, condition, purpose, result, reason, and concession. The grammatical forms that perform the functions in the English language are Adverb phrases, Prepositional phrases, Adverb clauses, Noun phrases, and Verb phrases.

  • Participle phrase

These are groups of words that function as adjectives to modify. They begin with either a present or past participle.

  • Prepositional phrases

These are groups of words that function as an adjective or adverb to modify. Also, they always begin with a preposition and also end with a noun.

Problems With Modifier Placements

There are a couple of issues that might come with the placement of modifiers in a sentence, there as follows:

  • Misplaced modifiers

A misplace modifier is when the modifier has been separated from the word which it describes or modifies or when the word it is describing or modifying is not present at all.

For example, “he kicked the ball barely”

In this sentence, the modifier is “barely”, and the headword is “kicked”. The modifier has been separated from the headword.

To fix the sentence, the modifier has to be brought before the headword to read “he barely kicked the ball.”

  • Dangling modifiers

A modifier that is not modifying a specific word is referred to as a dangling modifier. They are modifiers that are missing their intended headwords. In a sentence, a modifier is said to be dangling when it does not point to the word or phrase it is modifying.

For example, “worried about exhaustion, the race ended”

In this sentence, the ‘worried about exhaustion’ is the modifier, but it is not modifying any word.

To fix the sentence, the next thing that comes along is modified by the modifier to read “worried about exhaustion, the runners stopped, and the race ended.”

Dangling modifiers mostly take the shape of words and phrases ending in –ing, or –ed, and they mostly appear at the beginning of a sentence.

  • Squinting modifier

Another problem with modifier placement is the squinting modifier. This is caused by the adverb’s ability to move around in a sentence. The adverb can function well anywhere in the sentence, but it can cause the meaning of the sentence to be ambiguous or obscure.

For example, “people who run often can live longer”

To fix the sentence, you have to change the placement of the modifier to resolve the ambiguity and the corrected sentence can read either “people who often run can live longer” or “people who run can often live long.”

How To Prevent Having Problems With Modifiers Placement In A Sentence

By following these four rules of placement, you can avoid having a misplaced modifier

  • Simple adjectives precede a noun

An adjective modifier should come before the noun it modifies.

For example, “John has a big boat”

The modifier here is “big”, and it should come before the noun boat

  • Adjective phrases and clauses follow the noun

Phrase modifiers are always associated with the nearest preceding noun

For example, “The doctor with the blonde hair treated the patient”

The modifier here is the “blonde hair”, while the preceding noun it describes is “the doctor”.

  • Adverbs can move around in the sentence

An adverb can modify a verb, adjective, and sometimes other adverbs. They are allowed to move around in a sentence. That is, it can be anywhere in the sentence but should be near the headword it is modifying.

For example, “she quickly ran up the slope”, and “She ran quickly up the slope”

In both sentences, “quickly” modifies the verb, and it could be placed both before and after the headword.

  • Limiters should precede the headword

Limiters are words like nearly, only, just, almost, or hardly. These words should be placed in front of their headwords.

For example, “He exercises almost every day”

The limiter here is “almost”, and the words it is modifying is “every day”.

 

Useful sources

Related articles:

A long list of irregular plural nouns

The golden rules of punctuation