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Modifiers (adjectives and adverbs)

Adjectives Adjectives modify nouns. To modify means to change in some way. For example: "I ate a meal." Meal is a noun. We don't know what kind of meal; all we know is that someone ate a meal.

"I ate an enormous lunch." Lunch is a noun, and enormous is an adjective that modifies it. It tells us what kind of meal the person ate. Adjectives usually answer one of a few different questions: "What kind?" or "Which?" or "How many?" For example: "The tall girl is riding a new bike." Tall tells us which girl we're talking about. New tells us what kind of bike we're talking about.

"The tough professor gave us the final exam." Tough tells us what kind of professor we're talking about. Final tells us which exam we're talking about. "Fifteen students passed the midterm exam; twelve students passed the final exam." Fifteen and twelve both tell us how many students; midterm and final both tell us which exam.

So, generally speaking, adjectives answer the following questions: Which? What kind of? How many?

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. (You can recognize adverbs easily because many of them are formed by adding ly to an adjective, though that is not always the case.) The most common question that adverbs answer is how.

Let's look at verbs first.

"She sang beautifully." Beautifully is an adverb that modifies sang. It tells us how she sang.
"The player played carelessly." Carelessly is an adverb that modifies played. It tells us how the player played.

Adverbs also modify adjectives and other adverbs.

"That woman is extremely nice." Nice is an adjective that modifies the noun woman. Extremely is an adverb that modifies nice; it tells us how nice she is. How nice is she? She's extremely nice. "It was a terribly hot afternoon." Hot is an adjective that modifies the noun afternoon. Terribly is an adverb that modifies the adjective hot. How hot is it? Terribly hot.

So, generally speaking, adverbs answer the question how. (They can also answer the questions when, where, and why.) Adverbs modify other adverbs also. She sang very beautifully. They moved quite slowly down the road. He is almost always hungry.

Test yourself:Tell whether adjective or adverb is used in the sentences. 1. The sun burnt the grass quickly. 2. He drove his employees hard. 3. My friend is a careful driver. 4. I can paint this wall fast. 5. Come quickly or we will miss our bus. 6. Ella was the better of the two sisters at gymnastics.

Advanced Sentence Structures-I Misplaced modifiers Dangling modifiers

1. Misplaced modifiers Consider the meanings in the following:

The young girl was walking the dog in a short skirt.

The dog was chasing the boy with the spiked collar.

You can see what's wrong. The dog isn't "in a short skirt" and the boy doesn't have a "spiked collar." Because the modifier is misplaced, we have to think for a minute before we get the intended meaning.

The correct versions are: The young girl in a short skirt was walking the dog.
The dog with the spiked collar was chasing the boy.

You also need to watch the placement of modifiers such as almost, even, hardly, nearly, often, and only. Look at the examples below: Big Dog almost ran around the yard twenty times.
He nearly ate a whole box of treats.

In both sentences--when he "almost ran" and "nearly ate"--nothing happened! He didn't quite get around to doing either thing. What is intended is: Big Dog ran around the yard almost twenty times. He ate nearly a whole box of treats.

2. Dangling modifiers
Look at the sentences below: 1. Having been thrown in the air, the dog caught the stick. 2. Smashed flat by a passing truck, Big Dog sniffed at what was left of a halfeaten hamburger.

The dog wasn't "thrown in the air," and Big Dog wasn't "smashed flat."

Sentences like these are funny--but that's just the problem. Any time you draw attention to how you've said something instead of what you've said, your communication suffers. If you're writing something important, and I stop to chuckle over a faulty construction, the overall effect is lost.

So how do you get rid of these? Do the following: 1) Check for modifying phrases at the beginning of your sentences. 2) If you find one, underline the first noun that follows it. (That's the one that is being modified.) 3) Make sure the modifier and noun go together logically. If they don't, chances are you have a dangling modifier. 4) Rewrite the sentence.

Let's go back to the opening sentences and see how this works: 1. Having been thrown in the air, the dog caught the stick. 2. Smashed flat by a passing truck, Big Dog sniffed at what was left of a half-eaten burger. Both sentences begin with a modifying phrase. In number 1, dog is the first noun that follows; in number 2, it's Big Dog. Neither one goes logically with the modifier, so we need to rewrite the sentences. Sometimes you can rework the noun into the phrase itself. Often, you have to completely revise. One possible correction for each sentence is: When the stick was thrown in the air, the dog caught it. (Here, the modifying phrase has become a dependent clause. The meaning is clear.) Big Dog sniffed at what was left of a half-eaten burger that had been smashed by a passing truck. (Again, the phrase has been rewritten as a clause.)

ACTIVITY: 1 Misplaced and Dangling modifiers

From the following pairs of sentences, select the one which is correct.

1. a) Piled up next to the washer, I began doing the laundry. b) I began doing the laundry piled up next to the washer.

2. a) Standing on the balcony, the ocean view was magnificent. b) Standing on the balcony, we had a magnificent ocean view. 3.
a) As I was running across the floor, the rug slipped and I lost my balance, b) Running across the floor, the rug slipped and I lost my balance.

4. a) While taking out the trash, the sack broke. b) While Jamie was taking out the trash, the sack broke.
5. a)

While John was talking on the phone, the doorbell rang. b) While talking on the phone, the doorbell rang.

6. a) I almost listened to the whole album. b) I listened to almost the whole album.
7. a) He was staring at the girl wearing dark glasses by the vending machine. b) He was staring at the girl by the vending machine wearing dark glasses.

8. a) We read that Janet was married in her last letter. b) In her last letter, we read that Janet was married. 9. a) The faulty alarm nearly sounded five times yesterday. b) The faulty alarm system sounded nearly five times yesterday. 10. a) On the evening news, I heard that there was a revolution. b) I heard that there was a revolution on the evening news.

Each of the following sentences has a misplaced or a dangling modifier. Identify the modifier and correct the sentence.
The patient was referred to a psychologist with several emotional problems. Two cars were reported stolen by the police yesterday. The writer read from his new book wearing glasses. Working on my computer, the power went out, and I lost all of my work.

The hockey team only won four games in the last three years.
Inside the oven I smelled burned food.