A Lesson by Barbara Tennyson

Where to put modifiers to convey exactly what you mean.



Where you put a modifier matters.

Watch out for misplaced modifiers:
He said that he loved only me. — He loved no one else.
He said that only he loved me. — No one else loved me.
He said only that he loved me. — He said nothing else.
He only said that he loved me. — He did not mean it.
Only he said that he loved me. — No one else said it.
He said that he only loved me. — Sometimes love simply isn't enough.

See how the sense of the sentence changes when the modifier changes position. In general, keep the modifier close to what it modifies. That means know what you want to write.

The Comma and Modifiers

Modifiers come can be coordinated. Coordinated modifiers can be joined with 'and' or separated with a comma or not separated with a comma and still make sense: She had long and blonde hair OR She had long, blonde hair. However, 'long' can be considered to modify 'blonde hair', which gives us: She had long blonde hair. If the length of her hair is what the writer wants to emphasize, she could make 'blonde" modify 'long hair': She had blonde long hair. This sounds wrong, but it is correct grammatically.

Some adjectives cannot be separated by 'and' or reversed: 'a red crab apple' cannot be written 'a crab red apple' or 'a red and crab apple'. These are non-coordinated modifiers and don't get a comma. 'A beautiful, ripe, red crab apple' needs two commas. 'A beautiful red-ripe crab apple' doesn't, since 'beautiful' modifies 'red-ripe crab apple'.

Take a careful look at the string of adjectives: Some will need commas, some won't.

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Added on April 30, 2015
Last Updated on April 30, 2015

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Barbara Tennyson
Barbara Tennyson

If Urban Fantasy is fantasy set in a modern city, I write Urban Fantasy. I know some definitions of UF are more involved, but I don't necessarily meet those limitations. Still, I write what I write,..