These crafty little buggers can insinuate their way into copy without us even realizing it. Misplaced (and dangling) modifiers are some of the biggest culprits in unclear writing. The worst thing about them is that we tend to not even notice them because we know what we meant to say.
Misplaced modifiers can confuse readers. Modifying words and phrases are a clingy bunch—they want to attach themselves to the closest word or phrase in the sentence. If they’re in the wrong spot, they can appear to modify a different word or phrase than we intended, changing the meaning of the sentence drastically.
Shining brightly, I had to shield my eyes from the sun.
Because of the placement of the modifying phrase “shining brightly,” at first glance the reader thinks that the narrator of the sentence is shining brightly. If the sentence is part of a first-person narrative from the point of view of Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, who actually does shine brightly on a regular basis, then maybe that’s okay. But in the far more likely scenario that the writer meant that the sun is shining brightly this sentence needs to be reworded so as not to confuse the reader:
I had to shield my eyes from the sun, which was shining brightly.
The sun was shining so brightly I had to shield my eyes.
Sometimes misplaced modifiers aren’t so obvious. See if you can catch the misplaced modifier in the following sentence:
The third annual Incredible Customer Experience Awards recognize 10 businesses that excel in hospitality and 10 people who provide outstanding customer service along the Grand Strand.
As written, this sentence indicates that the 10 people who are to be honored are customer-service employees in locations along the Grand Stand only. (In other words, people who work in other locations are not included.) But that's not the intention of the sentence. What the writer meant to say is that the ceremony is taking place along the Grand Stand. This should be rewritten to clear up any confusion:
The third annual Incredible Customer Experience Awards along the Grand Stand recognize 10 businesses that excel in hospitality and 10 people who provide outstanding customer service.
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