An Elephant in my pajamas?

WRITTEN December 22, 2016 Author: Rich Atkins

Misplaced Modifiers

Groucho Marx: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know”

The term “misplaced modifier” means that the descriptor in the sentence is in the wrong place. Sometimes, these can be quite humorous, even though the writer/speaker may not have intended them to be. In the example above, the placement of the words “in my pajamas” is incorrect.

By allowing a misplaced modifier, your audience may not fully comprehend the information you are trying to share. Improving the level of your business writing skills will only raise  the value of your written or spoken communications.

Take a look at these statements with misplaced modifiers and see how easy it is to misinterpret them:

“I’ve been driving this truck with a broken heart.”

(The poor truck! Is that covered under manufacturer’s warranty? Or is the driver operating the vehicle with the broken heart, instead of her/his hands and feet?)

“It only cost $10.”

(In this example, “only” seems to be describing “cost,” but really should be describing $10. The misplaced modifier interrupts the subject connection with the verb.)

“Speaking of names, I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.”

(What’s the name of his other leg? This line was used in the film Mary Poppins.)


There are some great examples of misplaced modifiers in the images at the bottom of this post. Can you see how these can be misunderstood because of the (mis)placement of words?


misplaced modifiers


Modifiers do just that – they modify what might otherwise just be plain ideas. It is so important for these describing words to stay near to the word or words they are meant to modify. Remember, if they are too far from the base word, that is when they become misplaced modifiers.

The further away they get, the more likely it will seem that they are modifying something else, and may ultimately sabotage your message.

This information is from our Business Writing classes. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.
Image courtesy of Rochelle Hartman on Flickr


What is a misplaced modifier? —

Placement of Misplaced Modifiers in a Sentence — Cliff Notes

Why are “Misplace Modifiers” incorrect in some cases, and correct in others?

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