Watch the modifiers

A phrase at the beginning of a sentence often modifies the subject of the sentence. Sometimes writers confuse us by using a phrase to modify the wrong thing.

For example, a story about a writer contains this sentence:

Once extremely shy, writing gave her solace.

The writer of the piece meant the phrase “once extremely shy” to describe the subject of the piece. However, the structure of the sentence puts “once extremely shy” in the position to modify “writing.”

Here is another example of a misplaced modifier:

At 16, his father taught him how to drive a tractor.

In fact, the person who was 16 is the “him” of the sentence, but the way the sentence is written, “at 16” appears to describe “father.”

Both of these sentences were easy to fix in context. Here are edited versions:

Once extremely shy, she found solace in writing.

At 16, he learned how to drive a tractor from his father.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.