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08/19/2012

Oooooooh, Modifiers!

A modifier is a word or a group of words that affects the meaning of another part of the sentence. They can describe, limit, qualify, and provide additional information. When the modifier is in the right spot, the sentence effectively and correctly communicates the writer’s intended meaning. When it’s in the wrong spot, confusion often abounds. Let’s have an example, courtesy of Maroon 5 and their song “Payphone.” (Hey, that should be two words, not one, and I’m sure Adam Levine has a cellie.) In any case, as he laments the end of his relationship, he sings, “But even the sun sets in paradise.”

So what’s the problem? It’s with the word “even,” which is acting as a modifier here. Placed where it is, it makes the sentence mean, “All kinds of things set in paradise, including the sun.” But that doesn’t make any sense. What other things might be setting in paradise? Jello, maybe?

To make the lyric clear and correct, we need to move the modifier: “But the sun sets even in paradise.” There. See the difference? Now the sentence means, “The sun sets in the Midwest, in Europe, in India, all over the world, even paradise, where you might expect the sun to shine around the clock, being paradise and all.” In this revised sentence, the setting sun is a metaphor for the end of the relationship, which is of course what the songwriters intended with this lyric in the first place.

Let’s look at another example to drive home the point. We’ll start with the sentence “Fritz ate the donut” and add the modifier “only” in various places in the sentence; you’ll see how the meaning changes:

Only Fritz ate the donut. (No one else ate it.)
Fritz only ate the donut. (He didn’t do anything else to it.)
Fritz ate only the donut. (He didn’t eat anything else.)
Fritz ate the only donut. (There were no other donuts. Fritz, that selfish bastard, ate the lone donut.)

This is really just the tip of the modifier iceberg. For now, just remember that the modifier should be placed right next to whatever it is supposed to be modifying. And Adam Levine should be placed right next to me.

Posted by: ADMIN

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