Show Summary Details
Page of

Misplaced Modifiers 

Misplaced Modifiers

Stacy Christiansen

Page of

PRINTED FROM AMA MANUAL OF STYLE ONLINE ( © American Medical Association, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the license agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in AMA Manual of Style Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 20 June 2018

Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers result from failure to make clear what is being modified. Illogical or ambiguous placement of a word or phrase can usually be avoided by placing the modifying word or phrase appropriately close to the word it modifies.


Dr Young treated the patients using antidepressants. [Who used the antidepressants? Ambiguity makes 2 meanings possible.]


Dr Young treated the patients with antidepressants.


[alternative meaning]: Dr Young treated the patients who were using antidepressants.


The patient was referred to a specialist with severe bipolar disorder. [Who had the bipolar disorder?]


The patient with severe bipolar disorder was referred to a specialist.

Likewise, sometimes it is necessary for clarity to place an adverb within a verb phrase. Note the shift in meaning when the adverb is moved outside of the verb phrase.

He had just called me.

He had called just me.

Use of the word only as a modifier poses particular problems. It must be placed immediately before the word or phrase it modifies for the meaning to be clear. Note the different meanings achieved depending on placement in the examples below.

Only medication can ease the pain.

Medication can only ease the pain.

Medication can ease only the pain.

Previous | Next