by Jennie Ruby
Here are two modifier problems I have encountered recently. The first is a caption from a chiropractor's ad:
"Natural approach to chronic pain and injuries located in Silver Spring."
The second is a sentence from an e-newsletter about guitars:
"Yes, Hendrix's 1965 Fender Strat that he burned at a show recently
fetched over half a million bucks at an auction."
If you giggled, or at least smiled a little, when reading these, you have discovered the inadvertent humor of these ever-popular writing errors. In the first example, it sounds like the pain and injuries are located in Silver Spring. In the second one, especially because of the line break, it sounds like the late Jimmy Hendrix gave a show recently.
Modifiers can be single adjectives or adverbs, such as recently, or they can be phrases such as located in Silver Spring. They are considered dangling when the item they are modifying is not even in the sentence. They are considered misplaced when they are not placed obviously enough near the item they are modifying. In either case, problem modifiers can be read as modifying the wrong thing in the sentence-hence the humor.
The solution to a dangling modifier is to insert the item being modified. Here is a revised caption:
Chiropractor's office located in Silver Spring offers a natural approach to chronic pain and injuries.
The solution to a misplaced modifier is to move either the modifier or the item truly being modified to lead the reader to connect the two. Here is a revised sentence:
"Yes, Hendrix's 1965 Fender Strat that he burned at a show fetched over half a million bucks at a recent auction."
The humor from dangling and misplaced modifiers is similar to the humor of a bad pun: they are groaners, not side-splitters. But that is not even the worst thing about them. The worst part is that they distract the reader from the real content of your writing, and for that reason, they are worth correcting.
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