This week I had a bad experience at the dentist. I was lying in the chair while the dental hygienist poked at my gums with sharp needles. To distract myself I started reading a poster on the wall. It began with the sentence: “As a parent, your children depend on your knowledge and care to protect their oral health throughout their early years.”
When I flinched, the dental hygienist stopped and asked, “Did that hurt?” Yes, it did. But how could I explain that it was a “misplaced modifier” that had caused the pain?
In the poster, “as a parent” is a misplaced modifier. When a modifying phrase or clause is put at the beginning of a sentence it must refer to the subject – in this case “your children.” Obviously, “your children” are not “parents”, so the sentence doesn’t make sense.
A better way to recast the sentence would be: “Your children depend on your knowledge and care as parents to protect their oral health throughout their early years.”
Here’s another example of a misplaced modifier: “Being cheap, George was able to buy the house without a mortgage.” The sentence leaves the reader wondering whether it’s George who is cheap or the house.
And another: “When not congested, you can play the course in two hours.”
As you can see, misplaced modifiers can sometimes be amusing. Most of the time, though, they just hurt. And there’s nothing the dentist can give you to take away the pain!