A little bit of modification

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Grammatical modifiers, sometimes referred to as qualifiers, come in two types: “bound” & “free.”  One way to understand free modifiers is to think of them as any construction or phrase added to a bases clause, which is set off by commas.  Bound modifiers, on the other hand, are not set off by commas but interwoven into a base clause that they modify.   Modifiers can be a word, a phrase or an entire clause.   All in all, modifiers provide more accurate definitional meaning for another element of a sentence—and being able to recognize various types allows writers, particularly in revision, to add more detail or meaning to a sentence.

Free Modifiers

When a fourth customer in one week complained about her service, after working another eight hour shift without breaks, without coffee or a cigarette, she decided to quit, nerves shot and burned out on retail.

*The base clause is “she decided to quit,” and the underlined phrases modify it by adding in extra information—enriching the sentence and explaining why she quit.

Bound Modifiers

One reason academic writing is highly valued at American Universities is it’s supposed to represent an educational standard that reflects or measures the growth of one’s critical thinking skills.

*The unusual split here in the base clause shows that the bound modifiers are not set off by commas and are interwoven, clustered around, what they modify.

Correcting dangling modifiers:

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word or base clause which has not been clearly stated in the sentence.

Correct

*Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon, Cecily brought up Hulu on the computer when she got home to try and relax.

“Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon” recounts an action from a part of a day but does not name the actor who performed the action.  In English sentences, the actor has to be the subject of the main clause.  Because it is clear that Cecily is the actor who quit her job, this sentence does not have a dangling modifier.

Incorrect

*Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon, to try and relax Hulu was brought up on the computer.

“Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon” is a participle expressing action, but the actor is not Hulu (i.e. the subject of the main clause).  Hulu doesn’t quit jobs or try to relax after a hard day.  The actor expressed in the participle was never stated so the participle phrase is said to be a dangling modifier.

Quick tips on fixing dangling modifiers:

Name the appropriate or logical actor that carries out the action as the subject of the main clause.

Name the actor in the clause thus altering the phrase that dangles, making it into a complete introductory clause.

Join the main clause and phrase into one coherent sentence.

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