In order to understand Misplaced Modifiers, you need to know what a phrase is. A phrase is not a sentence. It can be a prepositional phrase, to the mountains; a gerund phrase, Running down the street; or a subordinating clause, while we were waiting.
Let’s see how each of the above function in a sentence:
- Last weekend, we took a trip to the mountains.
- Running down the street, Mike saw a purple house.
- Waiting for class to begin, we compared study notes.
Notice that the non-italicized part of each sentence is an independent clause. That is the clause forms a complete sentence. The italicized part is modifying the independent clause; it is changing or limiting the sentence in some way. For instance, in the first sentence we limit the scope of the trip by adding that the trip was to the mountains.
Also notice the placement of each of the phrases above. Were I to take one of these phrases, say, “running down the street” and move it to another part of the sentence weird things will happen.
- Mike saw a purple house running down the street.
- We compared study notes waiting for class to begin.
In the first sentence, notice that the gerund phrase, running down the street, refers to the noun before it, which is purple house. As a result, we have a purple house running down the street (which unless this is some Tim Burton flick probably isn’t the author’s meaning).
For the second sentence we have study notes waiting for class – another absurd visual.
When modifying clauses are in the wrong place and incorrect (and sometimes absurd) meanings result, we have what is called a Misplaced Modifier.
See if you can spot the Misplaced Modifier in the following sentence, and then write a correct version of the sentence provided in the lines (or you can just think of what the correct version should be).
Studying over the summer in Barcelona, Vicky’s first trip abroad was the most memorable experience of her life.
Studying over the summer in Barcelona, her first trip abroad, Vicky had the most memorable experience of her life.
Vicky’s first trip abroad, a summer spent studying in Barcelona, was the most memorable experience of Vicky’s life.