A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase separated from the word it’s supposed to modify, creating confusion. For an attentive reader, it can also make your work unintentionally hilarious. Some examples:
You: Please review the contract that is attached to this email with your supervisor.
Your attentive reader: This guy thinks my supervisor is attached to an email?
You: Our agency just rented office space for several employees with a big cafeteria.
Your attentive reader: Hmm. Your agency has some strange-looking employees.
In these examples, you can fix the unintentional silliness by moving the modifier closer to what it’s supposed to modify:
Please review with your supervisor the contract attached to this email.
Our agency just rented office space, with a big cafeteria, for several employees.
Other common misplaced modifiers are words like “almost,” “only,” “just” and “even.” If you put these words anywhere but in precisely the right spot, your sentence might read awkwardly. For example:
You: My team almost worked 60 hours last week.
Your attentive reader: So, your team came close to working a lot, huh? But it sounds like they wised up each time they got too close to starting.
What you meant: My team worked almost 60 hours last week.
The word “almost” should modify “60,” (as in “almost 60 hours”), not “worked,” because then it reads as though your team “almost worked” (which might be true, but it isn’t something you want to advertise).
Note: Also watch for the misplaced modifier’s cousin, the dangling modifier. This is a clause not clearly or logically related to the thing it modifies—usually because it’s moved to another part of the sentence. Like misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers can make your document a laugh riot in the hands of an attentive reader.
You: Coming from outer space, I’m guessing the asteroid is billions of years old.
Your attentive reader: Ha ha! You’re killing me! So, what part of outer space are you from?
What you meant: I’m guessing the asteroid, which comes from outer space, is billions of years old.