Modifying phrases at the beginning of sentences

A modifier should be placed next to the word it describes.


Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

Note how the placement of the modifier creates different possible meanings:

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

  • Note how different placement of the word only creates a difference in meaning between these two sentences.
  •      Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences 
  • Sentence A means that the shopper did not buy any ties.
  • Sentence B means that the shopper visited only the tie department.

A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it describes.  Sentences with misplaced modifiers often sound awkward, confusing, or downright illogical.

Some frequently misplaced single words are

almostevenexactlyhardly  just  merely  nearly  only  scarcely  simply


isplaced single word


Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

The logical meaning of this sentence is not that the vendor almost sold all of her pottery, but that she sold almost all of her pottery.

Therefore, almost correctly belongs next to all.

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

Misplaced phrase

     Example #1

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

  1. As written, this sentence means that children were served on paper plates.
  2. On paper plates is misplaced.
  3. Correctly written, the sentence means that hamburgers were served, on paper plates.
  4.      Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences
  5.     Example #2

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

As written, this sentence means that the car is carrying a briefcase.  Carrying a briefcase is misplaced.

Correctly written, the sentence means that the man is carrying a briefcase.

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences


isplaced clause

    Example #1

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

As written, this sentence means that the store was broken..

  •  Correctly written, the sentence means that the toy was broken.
  •      Example #2
  • As written, the sentence means that I forgot my keys after I got home.

Squinting modifiers

A squinting modifier is a modifier misplaced so that it may describe two situations.


  1. The sentence above is unclear.
  2.             Does it mean that I told my son when the game was over?
  3.                                                                 OR
  4.             Does it mean that I would play with him when the game was over?

Awkward separations

  • An awkward separation creates a confusing meaning.
  •      Example
  • As written, this sentence separates the auxiliary verb from the main verb, creating an awkward gap. 

Dangling Modifier Errors

A dangling modifier is “dangling” because its placement gives it nothing to modify. 

In many cases, the dangling modifier appears at the beginning of a sentence, although it can also come at the end.  Sometimes the error occurs because the sentence fails to specify anything to which the modifier can refer.  At other times the dangling modifier is placed next to the wrong noun or noun substitute:  a noun that it does not modify.

Dangling modifiers may appear in a variety of forms. 

Dangling participles


  1. In this sentence, the modifier passing the building is positioned next to the broken window.

  2. The resulting meaning is that “the broken window” is “passing the building,” clearly not the 
  3. intended meaning.

  4. In this sentence, the modifier once revised and corrected is positioned next to I, suggesting that “I” have been “revised and corrected.”

Dangling gerund


In this sentence, the modifier after roasting for three hours is positioned next to we,  meaning that “we” have been “roasting for three hours.”

Dangling infinitive


In this sentence, the modifier to walk a high wire is positioned next to a pole.  As a result, the  sentence means that “a pole” can walk “a high wire.”

Dangling elliptical clause


In this sentence, the modifier when just six years old is positioned next to my grandmother, suggesting that my six year old grandmother taught me ballet.

How to repair dangling modifiers – two options:

1. Create a word for the modifier to describe.  Place it next to the modifier.

  •             (Sometimes you will need to invent a subject.)
  • With the modifier next to my paper, the sentence clearly means that “my paper” was “corrected  and rewritten.”
  • With the modifier next to an acrobat, the sentence clearly means that “an acrobat” can “walk a high wire.”

2.  Rewrite the modifier (phrase) as an adverbial clause, thus eliminating the need for an immediate word to modify.

  1. With its own subject, “was revised and corrected” clearly refers to “my paper.”
  2. With its own subject, “was just six years old” clearly refers to “I.”
  3. Now the clause clearly shows that “we” have “roasted the turkey.”

7 Classes and Types of Phrases

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

Phrase is such a banal term for two or more words that convey an idea that it may surprise you that there are seven types of phrases, with variations. Here, with pertinent phrases in sample sentences formatted in boldface, is a rundown of the categories:

1. Absolute Phrase

An absolute phrase is a modifying parenthetical or subordinate phrase of a root sentence that includes a subject but does not have an acting verb so cannot stand on its own as sentence: “Their effort to regain the lead successful, the team continued to score until they pulled ahead by a wide margin.”

2. Appositive Phrase

An appositive phrase is one that restates a preceding term, or expands or explains it, in a parenthetical statement.

There are three variations of appositive phrases: “Her dog, a bull mastiff, looks ridiculous with a pink bow stuck to her head” features a noun phrase.

“His favorite hobby, knitting, is rather unusual for a man” includes a gerund phrase. “The Tahitian’s ambition, to become an ice skater, is unexpected” has an infinitive phrase.

Note that these three types of phrases are explained below; the distinction in the phrase types as applied above, as opposed to the types described below, is that each type serves as the basis for an appositive phrase; on their own, they need not be appositive, or set off.

Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

3. Gerund Phrase

A gerund phrase includes a verbal, a hybrid that functions as a noun (or adjective).

There are three distinct functions: “Juggling knives is not recommended as a relaxation technique” includes a gerund phase as the subject of the sentence.

“I’m going for a long walk off a short pier” features a gerund phrase as the sentence’s object. “She’s saving up for a vacation in Antarctica” has a gerund phrase as the object of a preposition.

4. Infinitive Phrase

An infinitive phrase includes the word to and a verb as the basis of a modification of a root sentence: “His effort to pass the bill doomed his political ambitions” includes an infinitive phrase that functions as an adjective modifying the previous noun. “He plans to see the movie” features an infinitive phrase that functions as the sentence’s object. “To write of the experience is to dredge up unpleasant memories” has an infinitive phrase that functions as the sentence’s subject. “To say as much is to admit guilt” includes an infinitive phrase that serves as predicate nominative, or a substitute subject. “I went to the store to buy some ice cream” features an infinitive phrase that stands as an adverb (modifying the verb went).

5. Noun Phrase

A noun phrase consists of a person, place, or thing and any modifiers: “This is a grammar lesson.” It may include one or more adjectives (as grammar modifies lesson here).

It might include a noun and a modifying clause: “This is a lesson that explains the various types of phrases.” It might take the form of one of three other types of phrase: infinitive, participial, and prepositional.

(The infinitive phrase is discussed above, and the latter two types are described below.)

Many noun phrases are continuous; they consist of words in sequence. However, a noun phrase may be discontinuous, meaning that it is broken up into more than one element: “This lesson is one that explains the various types of phrases.”

6. Participial Phrase

A participial phrase consists of verbals ending in -ing or -ed, or another irregular form of a verb, and serves as an adjective: The participial phrase in “Having been lied to before, I was wary” modifies the word I. The phrase may be parenthetical within a sentence, too: In “You, knowing what you now know, are in a better position to judge,” the participial phrase modifies the word you.

7. Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and a noun or pronoun that serves as the preposition’s object, and often one or more adjectives: “I went for a walk in the dark woods.” Prepositional phrases are often located at the head of a sentence. “When the sun went down, I hurried back.”

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Commas After Introductory Phrases

An introductory phrase is like a clause, but it doesn’t have its own subject and verb; it relies on the subject and verb in the main clause. It sets the stage for the main part of the sentence. When you use an introductory phrase in your writing, you’re signaling to the reader that the central message of the sentence is yet to come.

Introductory clause: After the meeting was over, the staff was exhausted.
Introductory phrase: While getting ready for bed, Susan heard a knock at the door.

There are several types of introductory phrases, including prepositional phrases and appositive phrases. Sometimes a comma is necessary after an introductory phrase. Other times, the comma is optional, and there are also times when a comma should not be used. It is important to note that a comma should always be used if the sentence could be misinterpreted otherwise.

Here’s a tip:  Commas can be tricky, but they don’t have to trip you up. Grammarly’s writing assistant can help you make sure your punctuation, spelling, and grammar are tip-top on all your favorite websites. Try Grammarly for free.  Modifying Phrases at the Beginning of Sentences

When to Use Commas After Introductory Prepositional Phrases

When an introductory prepositional phrase is very short (less than four words), the comma is usually optional. But if the phrase is longer than four words, use a comma. Consider the below examples of sentences containing properly placed and omitted commas:

Short prepositional phrase:

Before the movie starts let’s get some popcorn.

Before the movie starts, let’s get some popcorn.

Longer phrase:

After riding his bike around the neighborhood twice, Rob was sweating profusely.

When your introductory phrase actually contains two prepositional phrases, it’s best to use a comma. In the examples below, the introductory phrase contains two prepositional phrases: “during the production” and “of the film.”

During the production of the film the director nearly quit.

During the production of the film, the director nearly quit.

When to Use Commas After Restrictive Appositive Phrases

When the introductory phrase is a restrictive appositive phrase, don’t use a comma to separate it from the main clause. An appositive phrase is a phrase that renames the subject of the sentence. For example, the highlighted phrase in the sentence below is an appositive phrase because it renames the subject:

Kate, an only child
, demands a lot of attention.

There are two types of appositive phrases: restrictive and nonrestrictive. A restrictive appositive phrase is one that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

A nonrestrictive appositive phrase isn’t necessary but simply adds information to the sentence.

The example appositive phrase above is nonrestrictive because the sentence still makes sense without the phrase; it just doesn’t include as much information. The sentence below, however, contains a restrictive appositive:

The opera singer Maria Callas had myopia.

In this case, the appositive is restrictive because it is necessary for the reader to know which opera singer had myopia. Sometimes, a restrictive appositive phrase acts as an introductory phrase. In these instances, don’t use a comma to separate the phrase from the subject that it renames.

The award-winning teacher, Mrs. Becky Armstrong, was honored at graduation for her impact on students’ lives.

The award-winning teacher Mrs. Becky Armstrong was honored at graduation for her impact on students’ lives.

The rules regarding commas after introductory phrases are complex, but with practice, applying them will become instinctual.

How to Fix Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers (with Examples)

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes, defines, or qualifies something else in a sentence.

Modifiers include descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs:

  • She always listened attentively in class.
  • She decided to buy the blue vintage Cadillac.

Modifiers can also be phrases or clauses:

  • Anna smiled when she walked past the bar where she met her husband.
  • Having received a promotion at work, he went out to buy a bottle of champagne.

The most common modifier mistakes are dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers. Both terms refer to modifiers that are connected to the wrong thing in a sentence.

A misplaced modifier is too far away from the thing it’s supposed to modify, while a dangling modifier’s intended subject is missing from the sentence altogether.

What is a misplaced modifier?

A misplaced modifier is a modifier that is positioned too far away from the word, phrase or clause it is intended to modify and, as a result, appears to be modifying something else.

A misplaced modifier can be fixed by moving it so that it is connected to the right subject.

  • The waiter presented a steak to the guest that was medium rare.
  • The waiter presented a medium-rare steak to the guest.
  • The waiter presented a steak that was medium rare to the guest.

In this example, the misplaced modifier implies that the guest was medium rare. Moving the modifier correctly indicates that it was the steak that was medium rare.

Read more about misplaced modifiers

What is a dangling modifier?

A dangling modifier occurs when the subject of a modifier is missing from the sentence.

Dangling modifiers often take the form of an introductory phrase followed by a clause that doesn’t state the intended subject.

  • Fumbling in her purse, the keys could not be found.
  • Fumbling in her purse, she could not find the keys.
  • As she fumbled in her purse, the keys could not be found.

Adverb Phrase Examples

An adverb phrase is simply a group of two or more words that function as an adverb in a sentence. Just as an adverb can modify a verb, adjective or another adverb, an adverb phrase of more than one word can further describe a verb, adverb, or adjective.

Adverb phrases typically answer the questions how, where, why or when something was done, as you'll see in the adverb phrase examples below.

Consider the following sentences:

  • I parked the car.
  • I parked the car here.
  • I parked the car right here.
  • I parked the car right here under the bridge.

The first sentence does not contain an adverb or adverb phrase at all. The second sentence contains the adverb “here” to describe where the car was parked. The third sentence contains the adverb phrase “right here,” which emphasizes where the car was parked and employs a phrase instead of a single adverb.

The final sentence of the group contains a longer, more informative adverbial phrase.

Note that “right here under the bridge” is a prepositional phrase that uses the preposition “under” and the object “bridge.

” In this case, the prepositional phrase functions as an adverb in the sentence. Since it modifies the verb to describe location, it is both a prepositional phrase and an adverbial phrase.

A simple adverb phrase usually contains an adverb and at least one other word before or after it, though a prepositional phrase or infinitive phrase can also act as an adverbial.

Adverb Phrases Describing How

  • Surprisingly well
  • In total silence
  • Often under duress
  • Very carefully
  • Quite easily

Adverb Phrases Describing Where

  • Near the edge
  • Through the looking glass
  • Over the rainbow
  • By the mailbox
  • Around the sun

Adverb Phrases Describing Why

  • To understand better
  • For her happily ever after
  • For pity's sake
  • To make the most of it
  • To end discrimination

Adverb Phrases Describing When

  • As quickly as possible
  • Any time
  • Yesterday afternoon
  • After a few minutes
  • Never at midnight

Adverb phrases can be used in any position in a sentence. Consider these adverb phrase examples so you'll know what you're looking for:

Modifying an Entire Sentence or Clause

Use of Hopefully to Start a Sentence

This discussion will undoubtedly get some readers’ noses out of joint, because it points out that starting a sentence with the word hopefully is acceptable under modern theories of style. But watch out, many readers will think less of you if you start sentences with hopefully. So let’s review the problem. Then you can decide whether to start a sentence with the term or not.

Consider what this expression means, if the adverb is taken to modify the verb in the sentence:

Quickly, Igor will run across the field.

The adverb describes the verb. When Igor runs across the field, he’ll run quickly. Right? Now consider this sentence:

Hopefully, Igor will run across the field.

How can Igor run hopefully? Answer: He can’t. Thus, you can see why many grammarians have a hissy fit when they see or hear sentences beginning with the adverb hopefully. Instead, the traditional grammarian would say:

One hopes that Igor will run across the field. It is to be hoped that Igor will run across the field. Igor, one hopes, will run across the field.

According to grammarians, one just cannot run hopefully. And they’re right.

But what did Amber mean when she said, Hopefully, Igor will run across the field? She meant that she herself hoped that Igor will run across the field. The word hopefully describes the speaker or the writer or a generic one out there somewhere. It does not, in the speaker’s view, describe the verb in the sentence. Instead, it sums up the entire sentence.

Views of Top Authorities

Adverbs do have this ability to modify entire sentences. When they do, they’re appropriately called sentence adverbs. According to top authorities, adverbs, including those ending in ‑ly, can modify entire sentences. New Fowler for example, lists examples of sentences starting with an ‑ly adverb followed by a comma (New Fowler, p. 702):

Unhappily, there are times when violence is the only way in which justice can be secured. Agreeably, he asked me my name and where I lived. Frankly, I do not wish to stop them.

The sources of these passages? T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (1935), a 1987 issue of The New Yorker, and Brian Moore’s The Colour of Blood (1987).

According to Mr. Burchfield, the editor of New Fowler, the ‑ly adverbs that modify entire sentences include, among others, actually, basically, frankly, hopefully, regretfully, strictly, and thankfully.

He describes the “swift and immoderate increase in the currency of ‑ly adverbs used to qualify a predication or assertion as a whole.” But he goes on to point out that the Oxford English Dictionary traces the use back to 1644.

New Fowler, p. 702.

In Garner Legal, the author urges lawyers to avoid the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb:

[T]he word received so much negative attention in the 1970s and 1980s that many writers have blacklisted it, so using it at all today is a precarious venture. Garner Legal, p. 409.

In Garner Oxford, however, the author writes:

[T]he battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of American English . . . . Garner Oxford, p. 172.

But he cautions writers to consider their audiences:

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