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How to Edit Modifiers

self-editing, modifiers, tisha martin author editor, fiction, nonfiction

How to Edit Modifiers

Wait a minute, you say. Dangling, misplaced, or simultaneous modifiers does not fall into the category of punctuation. Eh, you have a point. However, might I propose that a dangling modifier has everything to do with commas, and that does point to using the best sentence structure for good punctuation results. Hang on—and I’ll show you what I mean.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, take notice. Misplaced modifiers are like the creepy crud of winter, and certainly not meant to be misused in your manuscript.

Why We Even Use Modifiers in the First Place

A modifier use in the beginning of your sentences modifies (or supports) the subject of the sentence. If that’s out of place, your sentence causes a misreading, which is not nice.

What IS a Modifier??

A modifier is a word usually ending in “ing” and is part of a word or phrase. A modifier describes the action or the subject. Feel better? I hope so!

What Are Poorly-placed Modifiers?

  • If the modifier does not describe the subject
  • If the modifier cannot be connected to the subject
  • If the modifier causes the reader any confusion about the subject and the verb’s purpose of the sentence
  • If the modifier happens at the same time the subject is doing the action

Dangling Modifier – does not connect to the subject of the sentence

Misplaced Modifier – is unclear about the action taking place

Simultaneous Modifier – creates confusion because two actions are happening at the same time

Let’s Dive In!

Dangling Modifiers


  • [Running down the street], the construction cones guided the cars


  • Well, construction cones can’t run down the street, so this structure is unclear.
  • The cars drove in between the construction cones lining the street.
  • We made the cars the subject of the sentence, which it should be anyway, and this is a much clearer sentence.


  • [After offering a slice of bacon], the traveler was nourished to keep going.


  • Okay, questions. . . Who offered the slice of bacon? And how can one piece of bacon nourish anyone?? I’d want a heaping pile! This sentence is uber unclear on so many levels!
  • After offering the weary traveler a plate of bacon, Rudy saw the man’s strength return.
  • We inserted a clear subject, completed the modifier so that it made sense, and gave the traveler more bacon!!

Misplaced Modifiers


  • The professor wrote a book about his experience in Prague on Saturday.


  • Hmm, when did he write the book? Or when did he have the experiences? The action is totally unclear here.
  • On Saturday the professor wrote a book about his experience in Prague.
  • We placed the adverb at the beginning of the sentence, which establishes the professor’s action. Now we know what actually happened!


  • I met with my writer’s group where we talked about our characters’ actions on Tuesdays.


  • So your characters only have actions on Tuesdays. What do they do on the other days? 
  • I met with my writer’s group on Tuesday where we talked about character action.
  • We moved the adverb to when the group actually meets, and we adjusted the subject being talked about so that it made better sense.

Simultaneous Modifiers

Note: I have to say that this one is my favorite because I’ve committed this offense myself, and chuckle now when I catch it. This one truly is a psychological trick, but if we think through each action, this is a super easy fix!


  • Taking her shoes off, she put the milk in the fridge.


  • She cannot take her shoes off and put the milk away at the same time. Not even if she’s a main character from your latest sci-fi or fantasy tale—there are certain rules that cannot be broken.
  • After taking off her shoes, she put the milk in the fridge.
  • We made the first part past action, and made the second part present action.


  • Hugging her parents, she tore into the bag of goodies.


  • Again, this is impossible to do both at once. (No…not even if your character has two sets of hands! It’s just wrong.) 
  • Grateful, she hugged her parents before tearing into the bag of goodies.
  • We set each action up as happening separately, with the most obvious order happening first. (Thanking and then opening.)

Using well-placed modifiers is important because presentation and sentence understanding makes a world of difference to an editor, agent, publisher, and readers. That may seem counterintuitive because the writing is equally important, but it’s the presentation that tends to enhance your credibility as a writer. (Especially if you self-publish and are doing your own first-draft editing.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the punctuation in your manuscript, but for now. . .

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

What are some of your “pet” dangling modifiers?

Are there any of these sentences you would reword?

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Punctuation Series: 4 Ways to Edit Commas

punctuation series

Four Ways to Edit Commas

 1.  Commas used with adjectives.

If you can place the word “and” between two adjectives before a noun without changing the meaning, then you need a comma separating the adjectives.

Here is an example:

His narrow chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

His narrow [and] chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

His narrow, chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

The two adjectives here act as separate modifiers for the noun “jaw,” and that’s why there is a comma between them.

However, if two adjectives before the noun are considered a unit, then do not use a comma.

Here is an example.

The author had written many famous award-winning articles.

Famous describes award-winning, and award-winning describes articles. Therefore, no comma is needed because the words work together and make sense.

2.  Commas with adverbs.

Generally, adverbs like howevertherefore, and indeed are set off by commas.


She wanted to join the group, however, she had to work instead.

He asked his boss if he could take the week off, therefore, he was able to finish writing.

But if the adverb is important to the meaning of the clause, or if no pause is needed in the reading, then no comma is needed.


The cattle indeed ran through the pasture as a group.

I’ll wait for you however long it takes for you to make a decision.

Even if you’ve written a letter, you are therefore a writer.

3.  Commas with cities and states.

This is an often-confusing issue. When do you use commas and when don’t you?

Always use a comma between the city and state, even if the state is spelled out or used as abbreviation.


Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of several Christian publishing hubs.

Will you visit any museums in New Orleans, L.A., this year?

If the state precedes a zip code, do not use a comma.


Send your book proposal to Your Agent, 123 Proposal Rd., Manuscript, TN 12345.

4.  Commas with compound predicates, dependent clauses, and independent clauses.

Compound Predicates. Do not use commas when you have two verbs that belong to the same subject.

For example,

The writers drove to the writer’s conference and attended every session.

Dependent Clauses. A dependent clause that is considered restrictive cannot be left out of the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence, therefore, use a comma when the dependent clause comes before the main clause.

For example,

When you send the manuscript to the publisher, tell them we can edit if necessary.

A dependent clause that is considered nonrestrictive, and which provides information that supplements the sentence not necessary to the entire sentence does need a comma.

For example,

I’d like to spend the afternoon in the bookstore, if you don’t mind.

Essentially, if you can leave out the dependent clause (“if you don’t mind”), and the rest of the sentence makes sense, then you need the comma.

Independent Clauses. An independent clause is part of a sentence that can stand on its own. If there are two of them together, joined by a conjunction (and, but, or), then a comma comes before the conjunction.

For example,

The instructors prepared for their sessions six months in advance, and they taught several classes at the annual writer’s conference.

The only exception: Short clauses don’t need a comma.

For example,

Sarah ran the signup table and Bill greeted the guests.

Using commas correctly is important because it makes a world of difference in the meaning of a sentence. One wrong comma could mean someone’s life! (Let’s eat Grandma… or Let’s eat, Grandma.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the punctuation in your manuscript, but for now. . .

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

What do you struggle with when using commas?  

Oh! And in case you’re interested, there’s an excellent online writer’s conference going on right now (February 12 — March 5, 2019)! It’s all online — so that means no travel, no hotel, no childcare, no dressing up, NO stress—and the best part is that it’s FREE! 

25 stellar speakers bring you up-to-date industry news, strategies, and encouragement right to the comfort of your living room. I’m presenting two sessions on self-editing, so be sure to click this link >> FlourishWriters Online Conference and register! It’s free!