A modifier is a word or a phrase that modifies or enhances the meaning that you impart in a sentence. For example, in the sentence the black hat fit well, the word black is a modifier. The hat fit well whether or not is black, so it is unessential. Although you might be using it to distinguish between say, a blue hat, or a red hat that didn't fit well. So the description is useful. Modifiers can add interest to writing if they're used correctly. Modifiers are adverbs, adjectives, or phrases. You can also think of them as things that describe other things in a sentence. In the sentence, the high-flying toy airplane hit the power line, high-flying is the modifier. You could also write the sentence this way. Flying high, the toy airplane hit the power line. In this case, flying high is the modifier. The most important thing that you need to know about modifiers is that they must be next to what they modify. If they're not, then you lose clarity. For example, if we write, the toy airplane hit the power line flying high. Flying high actually refers to the power lines, not the toy airplanes. The misplaced modifier causes confusion. Let's take our first sentence as another example. The black hat fit well. It's a simple sentence, so the error is obvious when the modifier is misplaced. You wouldn't say, black, the hate fit well, which is awkward, if not down right wrong. But you definitely wouldn't say, the hat fit well black. When you begin to write complex sentences, the misplaced modifier becomes less obvious, but you still sacrifice clarity. A mistake I often see is when writers begin a sentence with a misplaced modifier. Let’s go back to this example. After rotting in the cellar for weeks, Janie, Russell, and Fred Smith brought up some oranges. In this version, the modifier at the beginning of the sentence, after rotting in the cellar for weeks, refers to Janie, Russel and Fred. We need to change it, so that it refers to the oranges, which is actually the author's intent. In this example, working hard and paying attention, I saw my students make progress. The phrase, working hard and paying attention in front of I makes it sound like I was working hard and paying attention, the modifier is misplaced. What I really mean to say is that I saw my hard working, attentive students make progress. I have moved the modifiers hard working and attentive next what they modify, the students. Writers also commonly misplace modifiers by putting them at the end of a sentence. In the case of this sentence, the dog chased the squirrel up a tree that was chattering, that was chattering was referring to the tree, not to the squirrel because modifiers refer to what's closest. To make the sentence correct, you'd put the modifier next to what it's supposed to modify, the squirrel. You'd write, the dog chased the squirrel that was chattering up a tree. Now, was chattering modifies squirrel, which is what we want. Better yet, you'd cut some extra words and write the sentence as, the dog chased the chattering squirrel up the tree. One way to edit yourself for a whole passel of grammatical problems is to read your sentence, notice its parts and ask yourself, is this clear? If you ask yourself this question, you can make corrections without even understanding the grammar rule of modifiers. For example, if I've written the puppy ran across the carpet covered in mud, and I ask myself if this sentence is clear, I can see in fact that it isn't. Because it sounds like the puppy ran across a mud covered carpet. I don't need to know the role of modifiers, I just have to think about clarity and I know to rewrite the sentence. The puppy, covered in mud, ran across the carpet. Or, better yet, the mud-covered puppy ran across the carpet. A lot of writers make mistakes by adding more modifiers to drive their point home. They might add, once white, the mud-covered puppy ran across the carpet. If I read for clarity, I realize that I'm saying that the puppy, which is now mud-covered, was once white. This could be my meaning, but what I really want to say is that the puppy has ruined the white carpet. So, I'd rewrite, the mud-covered puppy ran across the white carpet. Maybe I'd like to modify this even further by writing, gleefully, the mud-covered puppy ran across the white carpet. Now we're getting into the subtleties of clarity. That sentence isn't necessarily wrong grammatically, but it's just not as clear as it could be. If you encounter this sentence on a page, without the context of our larger discussion in this video, it's not immediately clear what the gleefully refers to. Because it's the first word that your reader sees, it can slow down your reader because they need to pause to interpret the sentence. You'd be better off saying the mud covered puppy ran gleefully across the white carpet. We've moved gleefully closer to the word it modifies, which is ran, and constructed a clear, easy to read sentence and that is our point. The optional quiz that follows gives you a chance to spot and correct misplaced modifiers. Get some practice so you can start editing your own writing. The main rule to remember is that modifiers must be next to what they must modify. Or, when in doubt, return to our best writing practice number one, clarity above all, and edit to be as clear as possible.