Phrase Modifiers

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Phrase Modifiers

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Single Word Modifiers

The children in the school are reading in the library.

 

In the school is a prepositional phrase; it is telling us which children, so it's an adjective describing children. In the library is also a prepositional phrase; it is telling us where the children are reading, so it's an adverb phrase. It's easy to find what a phrase is modifying; follow these steps.

1. Turn the phrase into a question; use who for people and what for things. If a question beginning with where, when, how, or in what manner is appropriate, then the phrase is an adverb.

2. The answer to your question will be the word that is being modified.

The children in the school are reading in the library.

Who is in the school? The children are in the school. In the school is describing children; children is a noun; therefore, in the school is an adjective phrase.

Where are the children reading? Where stands for in the library, so in the library is an adverb describing where the action of reading is taking place.

There are two very important principles that you have to observe when you use a phrase modifier.

Principle #1: If there is a modifier, there must be something that is being modified.

Example:

Running home to his mother, Arnold showed her his perfect report card.

 

Let's follow the steps to determine what is being modified.

Who is running home to his mother? Arnold is running home to his mother.

The modifierrunning home to his mother which is a participial phrase, is correctly used.

 

There is one exception to principle #1: an adjective phrase can modify the you understood subject of the imperative form of a verb.

 

To turn on the power, press the red button on the control panel.

 

Who is turning on the power? You (understood) are turning on the power.

Principle #2: Place modifiers as close as you can get them to the words they modify.

Example:

Running home to his mother, Arnold showed her his perfect report card.

 

The modifierrunning home to his motherand the word being modifiedArnold are next to one another.

 

Let's look at two common mistakes you often make when you use phrase modifiers: the dangling modifier and the misplaced modifier.

Dangling Modifier:

Having studied the plot, it was clear that the maid was the murderer.

 

Who studied the plot? The answer should follow the comma. Since no person is there to be modified by the phrase, the phrase is a dangling modifier. This sentence violates principle #1: If you have a modifier, you must have something to be modified. There are two ways to correct this sentence, the first, and often the better way, is to revise the sentence so that the word being modified appears after the modifier.

Having studied the plot, Maria concluded that the maid was the murderer.

Who studied the plot? Maria studied the plot.

Another way to correct this error is to turn the modifier into a subordinate clause. This sentence can't be corrected in that way because the pronoun it has no antecedent, so let's look at another sentence.

 

Dangling Modifier:

Having taken an aspirin, the pain in my arm went away.

 

Correct:

After I took an aspirin, the pain in my arm went away.

 

The corrected sentence shows the second way to correct a dangling modifier: by turning the modifier into a subordinate clause.

 

The other common error in the use of phrase modifiers is called the misplaced modifier: the modifier is in the wrong place in the sentence.

 

Misplaced Modifier:

I practiced parallel parking in front of my house between two trash cans.

 

Between two trash cans seems to be modifying housethe house appears to located between two trash cans; however, the phrase should be modifying practiced.

 

Correct:

I practiced parallel parking between two trash cans in front of my house.

 

Correct a misplaced modifier by applying principle #2: put a modifier close to what it modifies.

 

Misplaced Modifier:

The purple vase was sent crashing to the floor by the vibration which had been a gift from my aunt.

What had been sent crashing to the floor? The vase, not the vibration.

 

Correct:

The purple vase, which had been a gift from my aunt, was sent crashing to the floor by the vibration.