Modifiers are words or phrases that either describe, clarify, or expand on other words. As the examples below show, if these modifiers are placed in the wrong part of a sentence, they can cause confusion and even unintended comedy – or, for Groucho Marx, intended comedy:
“One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got in my pyjamas I’ll never know”
Risking an insult to comedic genius, the first sentence would be less funny, but correctly written like:
One morning, in my pyjamas, I shot an elephant.
Other examples include:
I have a blue man’s jacket.
I have a man’s blue jacket.
David drank a cold glass of beer.
David drank a glass of cold beer.
The ripped employee’s pay slip was replaced.
The employee’s ripped pay slip was replaced.
We played the game of golf that had paid a lot of money for slowly.
We slowly played the game of golf that we had paid a lot of money for.
We decided to go on holiday on Saturday.
On Saturday we decided to go on holiday.
Correcting misplaced modifiers requires the identification of the modifier itself together with the word it modifies (describes, clarifies, etc.) and then the correct placement of the modifier that it is next to (for single word modifiers this is before) the word or phrase they modify.
Dangling modifiers do not reasonably modify anything in the sentence. For example:
Dancing as if nothing mattered, the evening was enjoyed immensely. [the evening was not dancing!]
Staring directly at him, a tear ran down his face.
Correcting dangling modifiers often requires a complete rewriting of the sentence.
Having been unboxed last night, David was able to assemble the wardrobe in the morning. [ David was unboxed?]
David was able to assemble the wardrobe, which had been unboxed last night, in the morning.