Why it matters where you place modifiers in a sentence

Location is key with modifiers — those words or phrases that describe something in your sentence. Put them in the wrong spot and the sentence is unclear or, worse, inaccurate. Here are some common problems:

Dangling Modifiers

You'll run into this when you start a sentence with a phrase. Make sure the beginning phrase matches the subject of the sentence. Consider this sentence:

Running across the street, the bus hit her.

How often do you see a bus run? But here's a solution:

The bus hit the girl as she was running across the street.

Misplaced Modifiers

Place modifiers close to the element that they describe or you'll create confusion.

The city manager was told the contract had been awarded by the mayor.

This could raise more questions than it answers. Did the mayor award the contract or did she tell the city manager about the contract?

Using passive voice (the city manager was told) contributes to this problem.

A better sentence is: The mayor told the city manager that the city got the contract.

Taken from Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.

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