To modify is to alter or change something. A modifier can be an adverb, an adverb clause, an adjective or an adjective clause that changes a word in a sentence to make it more descriptive. It can be a word, a clause or a phrase.
The modifiers will either alter verbs, nouns, adverbs or adjectives. Adjectives affect nouns while adverbs will alter the meaning of a verb, an adjective or another adverb. These words give extra details or in other words, they assist to reveal more information in a sentence. Interestingly, removing or adding modifiers to a sentence doesn’t affect its grammar.
It’s essential to note that modifiers make sentences interesting; without them sentences would be boring and sharing scanty information.
Examples of Modifiers
A modifier gives us a better understanding of a word by including extra details. Consider how these modifiers alter the words:
- Word to modify: Blue
Modified word: Light blue, dark blue shirt, sky blue apartment
- Word to modify: Hot
Modified word: Hot weather, burning hot, hot sun that dehydrates you
- Word to modify: Horse
Modified word: White horse, skinny horse, and the horse I was riding
- Word to modify: investment
Modified word: perfect investment, my worst investment, the best investment I have ever made
For the above examples, you can see that the undermined modifiers offer more details about the specific words.
Types of Modifiers
Though there are two main types of modifiers: adverbs and adjectives, the phrase and clauses that act as either adjectives or adverbs also qualify to be modifiers. Let’s get deeper into these modifiers.
These modifiers affect nouns and pronouns. You’ll realize that they answer the following questions in regard to the nouns they modify,
- Which one?
- What kind?
- What kind of a dog?
A male dog
- Which dog?
- How many?
- How much?
Check this sentence with and without modifiers
- Without modifiers: The cat went to the field to eat grass
- With Modifiers: The black, fluffy cat went to the field to eat grass
From the two sentences, we can clearly see that the meaning is the same and both are grammatically right, yet the second sentence offers a better understanding of the cat by using the modifiers “black” and “fluffy”. The second sentence is more specific about the cat that went to eat grass
As we had discussed in the introduction, adverbs modify adjectives, other adverbs or verbs. They answer the following questions in regard to the adjective, adverb or verb they modify,
Visit the park
- How often?
Visit the park every month
- How much?
As you can see, adverbs answer the questions of where, when, how and why. They try and explain how something is done. Let’s consider how to use them is a sentence:
- Today the black, fluffy cat went to the field to eat grass.
- Another example: The black, fluffy cat goes to the field each week to eat grass
The first sentence answers the question of “When”, it shows us when the cat went to eat grass. The second sentence, on the other hand, tells us about the frequency—it answers the question of “How often”, it informs us that the cat goes to the filed each week. As you can see these sentences are more descriptive and specific than this sentence: The cat went to the field to eat grass.
Clauses and phrases as modifiers
Not only are modifiers single words but they can also be clauses or phrases provided that they act as adverbs or adjectives in a sentence. Note that a clause has to comprise of a verb and a subject. Consider these examples
- The cat ate grass until it a diarrhea
From this sentence, the clause “until it had diarrhea” is the adverb clause acting as a modifier. It responds to the question of how long the cat ate grass.
- I saw the cat that eats grass
In this sentence, the adjective clause is “that eats grass”. The clause describes the cat.
- I saw the dog that eats popcorn.
Unlike clauses, phrases are words that are related but do not include a verb and a subject. Let’s look at examples of phrases as modifiers.
- The cat eats grass from the field.
- The gazelle ran as fast as lightning
In the first sentence the phrase “grass from the field” describes what the cat ate. The second sentence has “as fast as lightning” as the phrase to describe how fast the gazelle ran.
What is the importance of modifiers?
Consider these sentences with and without modifiers.
- I traveled. I dressed. I worked. I ate. I drove. I rested.
Though these sentences are grammatically correct, they seem boring and they do not give us adequate information on what happened.
Here are the same sentences with modifiers,
- I traveled to Bombay. Upon reaching the city I dressed for work. I worked until 1.00 pm. I went to a Bengali restaurant and ate my lunch. I then drove back to my home via public means. I rested after a long hectic day.
As you can see, these sentences are engaging and interesting to read compared to the first lot. We can conclusively say that modifiers affect our daily communication besides enhancing our language.
From the examples above, you’ve seen how you can use modifiers in a sentence. In the same token, it essential to note that the placement of modifiers in a sentence can twist the meaning. Below are some common types of misplaced modifiers.
We can define a dangling modifier as a word or phrase that is linked to the subject rather than the object; it can also be linked to nothing. In other words, a dangling modifier doesn’t affect the word it’s intended to modify. In most cases, a sentence with a dangling modifier is on passive voice.
- For example, having arrived late for the meeting, an excuse was unavoidable.
- Correct version: Having arrived at the meeting, the chairman demanded an excuse.
A disruptive modifier interferes with the flow of a sentence since it comes in between a verb and the object.
- For example, the perfect rang every 30 minutes the bell. In this sentence, “rang” and “bell” should be next to each other. The modifying phrase should come at the end of the sentence.
A split infinitive is a case where a preposition separates a verb and an adverb, for example, he vowed to hurriedly pick the call.
The sentence should read “He vowed to pick the call hurriedly”. A split infinitive is a type of disruptive modifier.
A squinting modifier is also known as a two-way modifier. It’s a word with the unclear association—it may be modifying the preceding word or the next word.
- For example, “Reporting to the police about it too often results in robberies”. In this sentence, the writer has failed to show if robberies result from too-frequent reporting, or if reporting in unstated frequency leads to excess robberies.
The correct version of the sentence could be placing the modifier phrase at the start of the sentence.
“Too often, reporting to the police about it results in robberies”.
When a modifier is erroneously placed in a sentence, we refer this to as a misplaced modifier.
For example, he served buns to the boys on white bowls.
Correct version: He served the boys buns on white bowls.
Limiting modifiers such as only, almost, simply, etc. can result in misplaced modifiers. For example, “He was not only shouting to the children, but also to his mother”.
The correct version of the sentence should be “He was shouting not only to the children but also to his mother”.
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