Making your mystery shop reports as clear as possible is important. Using modifiers incorrectly can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
Misplaced modifiers are easy to do, and often hard to spot. Before getting into the mistake, however, let’s first explore what a modifier is. Modifiers are words that are used in a sentence to describe something else. They’re typically adjectives, which are words that describe nouns but can be any words or phrases that describe something.
Here are some examples of properly used modifiers, which have been bolded for clarity sake:
- The penguin ate the keeper’s delicious fish.
- I didn’t notice the woman’s annoying child until he started screaming on the train.
In these examples, the modifier comes exactly before the word they’re intended to describe, so there’s no confusion that the fish are what’s delicious, or that the child is annoying.
What happens when they’re misplaced is that they come at a time in the sentence when grammatically they change the whole meaning of what you’re trying to say. There are different ways that this can happen, and luckily, they can all be fixed with some careful editing.
Here’s two classic examples of modifiers that have been misplaced:
- I had to return the purple woman’s vest because it didn’t fit.
- The shoes didn’t fit me in the store.
In the first sentence, the writer was trying to convey that they had to return a woman’s purple vest. Instead, they said there was a purple woman, and they had to return her vest. Just by moving the modifier one word too soon, they’ve changed the entire meaning of their sentences to something they didn’t intend at all. To correct the sentence, the modifier needs to be moved closer to the word it is modifying.
- I had to the return the woman’s purple vest because it didn’t fit.
The second sentence’s modifier is a group of words rather than just a single adjective. However, the same effect happens when it’s misplaced. The sentence, as is, implies that the shoes didn’t fit in the store, but fit when I got home, or once I got to the car. The original intention was to imply that the shoes I found in the store did not fit at all, and will never fit because in reality, shoes cannot just change their size. To fix the sentence to convey my intention, I would need to write:
- The shoes in the store didn’t fit me.
There are a lot of times when the order of words in a sentence greatly influence the entire meaning. Sometimes the shift is so subtle, it’s extremely easy to miss. For example:
- I almost failed to catch that sale.
- I failed to almost catch that sale.
These sentences are nearly identical, save for switching the order of “almost” and “failed.” It’s clear with these two examples how easy it is for everything to change with just one swap. In the first sentence, the message is that I was able to catch the sale, but just barely. I almost missed it. The second sentence conveys that I was close to catching the sale, but missed it because I was too late.
When writing your sentences, make sure that your modifiers stay close to the words they’re describing, and make sure that you take the time to carefully reread what you’ve written. If it sounds strange, or feels strange, your words may need some rearranging. Don’t hesitate to try different arrangements, and when in doubt, ask another reader to check your writing!