M is for modifiers

M is for modifiers

Why modifiers should be avoided in content

Modifiers, as their name suggests, are the extras we put with a word to alter, clarify, qualify or add information.

They are usually adjectives or adverbs – the describing words from your primary school grammar lessons. Phrases can also be modifiers, in which case they tend to describe an adjective or an adverb.

Here’s how to avoid using modifiers.

If you strike a modifier out of a sentence, what’s left should still make sense. In fact, modifiers tend to be the first victims of the editor’s axe when writers take liberties with the word count.

Modifiers can be an important way to add valuable information  –  as important almost does in this sentence. But the general advice is to use them sparingly  and only if they serve a purpose.

In many cases they are meaningless or even tautological. “True facts” or “complete monopoly” are actually just “facts” and “monopoly”.

And adverbs often creep into the party bringing nothing. There is usually no need, for example, to add “currently” to the phrase, “I am working for a bank”.

The overuse of adjectives and adverbs – often in an attempt to add gravitas –  can feel clumsy, laboured and graceless.

Avoid overblown or flowery adjectives or those that have become meaningless through overuse. If you claim something is “extraordinarily” or “incredibly” good, you need to be sure that it is. Likewise steer clear of pointless or boring modifiers – “very” rarely brings a lot of spark to a sentence.

Finally, if you are using a modifier make sure you don’t leave it dangling or hanging. The rather alarming sounding “dangling modifier” is one separated from its intended  word. The resulting meaning might be unclear, or actually ridiculous.

Take this report from a day out: “The children saw sheep driving along the road”. Sheep at the wheel would be a very surprising sight.

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Giulia Rhodes
Giulia Rhodes