Modifiers: What Are Modifiers? Definition and Types (Examples)

By Carly Forsaith, updated on April 4, 2023

If you want to know what modifiers are, you've come to the right place. These essential parts of English grammar can be used in your sentences to make them more detailed, fun, and informative. So if you want to know how to use them to beef up your own sentences, read on.

In short:

  • Modifiers modify your understanding of a sentence by providing more information about how, when, where, or how something is.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Modifiers?

Modifiers are:

  • Used in sentences to provide additional information.

The information they do provide isn't essential to the understanding of the sentence, but it certainly paints a different, more detailed picture.

Modifiers can be a single word, a phrase, or a clause. Remember, a phrase is a grammatical unit that is part of a sentence and doesn't convey a complete thought. A clause, on the other hand, contains a subject and a predicate, so they do convey a complete thought.

Here's an example of a single-word modifier:

I love that deep blue color on Ellie.

The modifier 'deep' provides additional information about the adjective 'blue' by telling us that it's not just any blue that looks good on Ellie; it's the deep blue.

Here's an example of a phrase modifier:

She waited patiently in the doctor's office.

The phrase modifier 'in the doctor's office' modifies the verb 'waited.'

And here's a clause modifier:

I'm going straight to bed as soon as the movie finishes.

The clause 'as soon as the movie finishes' modifies the entire clause 'I'm going straight to bed.'

Different Kinds of Modifiers

Lots of different types of words can be modifiers. Let's find out more.


Adjectives, adjective phrases, and adjective clauses can be modifiers. Here's what it looks like when you get a one-word adjective as a modifier:

That's completely made my day.

The possessive adjective 'my' modifies the phrase 'day.' It's straightforward enough to check since adjectives always modify nouns or pronouns.

Now let's take a look at an adjective phrase as a modifier:

Her glass half full attitude is very contagious.

The adjective phrase 'glass half full' modifies the noun 'attitude.' And in the following sentence, the adjective clause 'we are going to see tonight' modifies the noun 'play.'

The play we are going to see tonight has won awards.


Again, single-word adverbs, as well as adverb clauses and phrases, can function as modifiers. Here's an example of the first:

The dancers are extremely talented.

The adverb 'extremely' modifies the adjective 'talented.' Remember, adverbs always modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

We're going on vacation soon and it can't come quickly enough.

In the above sentence, 'quickly enough' modifies the verb 'come,' making it an adverb phrase modifier. And here's an adverb clause modifier:

He always goes for a run before he heads to work in the morning.

The adverbial clause 'before he heads to work in the morning' modifies the verb 'goes for a run,' making it the modifier in this sentence. Remember, an adverbial clause is always a dependent clause, meaning it can't stand alone as a complete thought. It needs another (independent) clause to complete it.

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases can be modifiers, too. That's a phrase where the headword is a preposition. They complement a verb or a noun and consist of a preposition, an object, and any other words that modify the object.

The dog on the left is the cutest.

The prepositional phrase 'on the left' is the modifier in this sentence, modifying the noun 'dog.' Here's another example for good measure. This time, it modifies a verb.

She drank her hot chocolate with delight.

'With delight' modifies the verb 'drank,' making it the prepositional phrase modifier in this sentence.


Determiners and other small words can also make great modifiers. Take, for example, demonstratives like 'this,' 'that,' 'these,' and 'those.'

I'm interested in buying this dress.

Possessive determiners like 'my,' 'your,' 'our,' and 'their' also do the job.

We're going to their house for dinner.

You can also use degree modifiers like 'very,' 'awfully,' or 'fairly' or limiting modifiers like 'always,' 'only,' or 'almost.'

The music is awfully loud.

She's almost always late.

Quantifiers, too, can be used as modifiers.

We caught not one but two huge salmon fish.

Incorrect Modifiers

With modifiers, you have to be careful to put them in the right place; otherwise, they'll sound weird or give the reader the wrong impression about what you're trying to say. For the same reasons, you also have to make sure you're using a modifier only when it's appropriate.

There are three kinds of incorrect modifiers.

Misplaced Modifier

You should place your modifier directly next to the noun, adjective, verb, or phrase it modifies. If you don't, it's a misplaced modifier. Take the following sentence, for instance:

The woman arrived at the conference and took a seat soaking wet.

The modifier 'soaking wet' applies to the phrase 'arrived at the conference,' so it should be placed directly next to it. Placing it next to 'took at seat' instead makes us wonder whether it was the seat that was soaking wet.

Let's take a look at another example:

Thomas Edison invented the electric lightbulb, giving us the gift of light in 1879.

Edison's invention didn't only allow us to have light in 1879; it allowed us to have light forever after that date. But the misplaced modifier 'in 1879' makes it sound like we only enjoyed the gift of light in 1879, and then it was over. When in fact, 1879 was the year he invented the lightbulb, so the sentence should actually read:

Thomas Edison invented the electric lightbulb in 1879, giving us the gift of light.

Dangling Modifier

A dangling modifier occurs when the word or phrase that is intended to be modified is absent from the sentence. Instead, it's replaced by another subject, and the whole thing just doesn't really work. L00k at the following sentence. Does it make sense?

Starving by the time I got home, my dinner was devoured in minutes.

The modifier is 'Starving by the time I got home,' but the subject is missing from the phrase being modified. So it sounds like the dinner was starving. Instead, the sentence should read:

Starving by the time I got home, I devoured my dinner in minutes.

Squinting Modifier

A squinting modifier is a modifier that's correct, but it's just placed in a way that's ambiguous and unclear which word or phrase it applies to.

For instance:

Typing quickly improves your chances of getting a job.

Here, the modifier 'quickly' could apply to the verb 'typing' or the clause 'improves your chances.' Is it typing quickly that improves your chances, or is typing that helps you get a job quickly? A better way to phrase it would be:

Quick typing improves your chances of getting a job. 

Let's have a look at another example.

Ryan decided at lunchtime he would do some gardening.

Here the modifier 'at lunchtime' is misleading because it could apply to either the verb 'decided' or the clause 'I would do some gardening.' Did Ryan make the decision at lunchtime? If so, a better way to word it would be as such:

At lunchtime, Ryan decided he would do some gardening.

But if it's the gardening that will take place at lunchtime, not the deciding, then you could say it this way:

Ryan decided he would do some gardening at lunchtime.

Concluding Thoughts on Modifiers

Well, that pretty much sums up all you need to know to have a good handle on modifiers and be able to spot them in a sentence.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • A modifier describes another word in the sentence.
  • Modifiers can be a single word, a phrase, or a clause.
  • Many different parts of speech qualify as modifiers. 

If you found this article helpful and would like to continue your grammar education, head over to our Grammar Book, a free database of articles that makes complex grammatical concepts accessible.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.