What Are Modifiers

Hello World!! Now that you are well set on your journey of grammar, here’s a small lesson for you on one of the most frequent error zones in grammar- Modifiers.

Oh, by the way! Do you like coffee? It might not be a bad idea to keep a steaming mugful by your side as you read the lesson. Sip along!

 

Grammar Bytes-Grammatical modifier-Modifiers

Modifiers- Dangling and Misplaced:
A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a word or a word group. A dangling modifier is a phrase that modifies the wrong word or phrase because of the absence of the word or phrase it is supposed to modify. In other words, the modifier is left “dangling”. A misplaced modifier is placed incorrectly in the sentence such that it modifies the wrong word and makes the sentence sound illogical.

Dangling- Reaching Europe at the beginning of the 17th century, they called it “the wine of Arabia”.
Correction- Reaching Europe at the beginning of the 17th century, the coffee was called “the wine of Arabia” by them.
In the first sentence “Reaching Europe at the beginning of the 17th century” is supposed to modify “coffee” but the word coffee is missing.

Misplaced- Called “the wine of Arabia”, at the beginning of the 17th century the coffee reached Europe.
Correction- Called “the wine of Arabia”, the coffee reached Europe at the beginning of the 17th century.
In the first sentence, called “the wine of Arabia” is supposed to modify coffee.

FLAVOR 1– Modifying phrases with relative pronouns:-
Who, whom, whose, that, which, where

Incorrect- In Ethiopia started the story of coffee, where the coffee tree probably originated in the province of Kaffa.
Correct- The story of coffee started in Ethiopia, where the coffee tree probably originated in the province of Kaffa.
In the above sentence, where the coffee tree probably originated in the province of Kaffa should relate back to the noun ‘Ethiopia.

Incorrect- There are various fanciful but unlikely stories surrounding the discovery of the properties of roasted coffee beans. One story has it that an Ethiopian goatherd was amazed at the lively behaviour of his goats after chewing red coffee berries.
Correct- There are various fanciful but unlikely stories surrounding the discovery of the properties of roasted coffee beans. One story has it that an Ethiopian goatherd was amazed at the lively behaviour of his goats that were chewing red coffee berries.

In the above sentence “after chewing red coffee berries” seems to modify both the goatherd and the goats. The modifier has been corrected in the next sentence.

Grammar Bytes-Grammatical modifier-Modifiers

FLAVOR 2– Most of the times, modifiers are set off from the sentence by commas. Have a look at the following sentence: Eaten by slaves, the succulent outer cherry flesh was taken from present-day Sudan into Yemen and Arabia through Mocha, the great port of its day, now synonymous with coffee. Observe that the modifiers “eaten by slaves” and “the great port of its day” are set apart from the rest of the sentence by commas. 

FLAVOR 3– Do not use an adjective when you require an adverb.

Incorrect- Mocha was also the main port for the one sea route to Mecca, and was a real busy place in the world at the time. But the Arabs had a strict policy not to export any fertile beans, so that coffee could not be cultivated anywhere else.
Correct- Mocha was also the main port for the one sea route to Mecca, and was a really busy place in the world at the time. But the Arabs had a strict policy not to export any fertile beans, so that coffee could not be cultivated anywhere else.

Modifier

FLAVOR 4– Modifiers are very smart at times. How? They pick up a word or a phrase from a sentence that seems to be finished and then add information. Then is the time to enrich your brains by having a sip of coffee and not get carried away with a modifier.

The coffee house in Arabia was nothing quite like the coffeehouse that had existed before: a place where society and business could be conducted in comfortable surroundings and where anyone could go, for the price of coffee.

FLAVOR 5– Single words can be misplaced and cause confusion.

Incorrect- The Dutch were growing koffie also at Malabar in India, and in 1699 took some to Batavia in Java, in what is now Indonesia. Within a few years, the Dutch colonies had become the main suppliers of coffee to Europe. Today Indonesia is the fourth largest exporter of koffie in the world.

Modifier

Correct- The Dutch were also growing koffie at Malabar in India, and in 1699 took some to Batavia in Java, in what is now Indonesia. Within a few years, the Dutch colonies had become the main suppliers of coffee to Europe. Today Indonesia is the fourth largest exporter of koffie in the world.
The first sentence erroneously implies that the Dutch were growing other crops AND growing coffee also.

FLAVOR 6- The pronoun who modifies a person or group of persons, which modifies things and that can be used with either person or things. See the sentence below:

The race to make off with some live koffie trees or beans was eventually won by the Dutch in 1616, who brought some back to Holland where they were grown in greenhouses.

In 1400, Sjehab-eddin, a mufti, learned to make the brew, which made the need to sleep disappear, and took the bushes to his hometown Aden, now known as Yemen. 

NOTE: Use the relative pronoun “that” to introduce an essential modifier that cannot be logically removed. Use “which” to introduce a non-essential modifier, usually separated by commas, which can be removed from the sentence.

Modifier

The largest insurance market, Lloyd’s of London, which began its life as a coffeehouse, was started in 1688 by Edward Lloyd while preparing lists of the ships that his customers had insured.

FLAVOR 7– “Which” should not have more than one potential antecedent.

In 1511 the governor of Mecca, Kair Beg proclaimed that coffee was equal to wine, which was banned in the Koran.
It is not clear whether the coffee or the wine was banned in the Koran.

Apothecaries stocked the bean for medicinal uses, which were ranging from ridding the body of bad humor to preventing plague.
Here it is clear that “which” is referring to “medicinal uses” only and nothing else.

Grammar Definition of Modifier

FLAVOR 8-If a modifier is able to justify “how” of the verb it is called an adverbial modifier. Please keep the modifying noun close to each other. They should be placed in such a way as to avoid ambiguity in the word it is modifying.

In an interesting and romantic manner, the story of coffee started in the 1720s. Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French naval officer serving in Martinique, went to Paris on leave in 1720.Slowly and painfully, he acquired a koffie tree, which he took with him on the ship back. The plant was kept in a glass case on deck to keep it warm and prevent damage from salt water.

Flavor 9- Adjective helps (modifies) Noun or Pronoun and Adverb is usually busy in helping (modifying) Verb, some other Adverb, Preposition or Phrase.

During the journey, pirates from Tunis threatened the ship. There was a violent storm and the plant had to be tied down. Mathieu de Clieu courageously faced a jealous enemy on board who was trying to sabotage the plant. There was a violent struggle in which a branch was torn off, but the plant survived this horror. Finally, the ship arrived in Martinique and the coffee tree was re-planted at Preebear, where it was surrounded by a thorn hedge and watched over by slaves. It grew, and multiplied, and by 1726 the first harvest was ready.
Notice that the adjectives, “violent” and  “jealous” are modifying nouns whereas the adverbs, “courageously” and “finally” are modifying verbs.

Flavor 10- Identify the modifier and try to locate the word it is modifying. You will know whether the modifier is correct or incorrect.

 

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