Business Writing Essentials
Grammar

Match Modifiers

Modifiers are words or phrases that act as adjectives or adverbs. They make our writing more specific, interesting, and memorable. But when badly placed, they can confuse the reader. The most common problems are dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers.

Dangling: It doesn't seem to modify anything in particular.

Although a humorless boss, everyone kept telling that joke.

Everyone is not the boss. Who is?

Solution 1: Make the modifier clear by following it immediately with the thing being modified.

Although he was a humorless boss, Bob noticed that everyone kept telling that joke.

Solution 2: Rewrite the sentence.

Despite the fact that their boss had no sense of humor, everyone kept telling that joke.

Misplaced: It causes confusion because it's not put close enough to the thing it's supposed to modify.

Bob insisted we stop posting jokes about Ben on the coffee maker.

Are we posting on the coffee maker? Or is Ben sitting on the coffee maker?

Solution 1: Make the modifier clear by placing it closer to the thing being modified.

Bob insisted we stop posting jokes on the coffee maker about Ben.

Solution 2: Rewrite the sentence.

Bob insisted we stop sharing jokes about Ben, and that we definitely stop posting them on the coffee maker.

When things match, your readers never even notice. That's the goal of editing and re-writing: your prose is so smooth, they assume you write first drafts with perfection. There is no need to disabuse them of that misconception.

Note: Editing doesn't have to be done alone. It's easier and more fun to share the effort with a coworker. And it can be your secret.

Lesson: Match Modifiers
Module: Grammar
Course: Business Writing Essentials