Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Misplaced Modifiers: A Christmas Example

"Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow"

As a friend says, "let's be real here"—I'm a Christmas song addict. I could probably listen to Christmas music year-round, but would never inflict that much torture on my husband. So, Christmas is here again and all the faves are playing on my Pandora Christmas station, and "Let It Snow" starts to play. I'm wrapping Christmas presents that need to make it to Panama by Christmas, so my mind is able to wander and I start thinking about a line in this song that I've never quite figured out:

When we finally kiss goodnight,
How I'll hate going out in the storm!
But if you'll really hold me tight,
All the way home I'll be warm!*

 If this hypothetical you is going to hold the singer all the way to keep him/her warm, why are they kissing goodnight? Not kidding, I've wondered about this line for years and, yesterday, I finally figured it out!

Ladies and gents, meet the misplaced modifier.

What Is a Misplaced Modifier?

I'm glad you asked. A misplaced modifier is any sentence part—a word, a phrase, or a clause—that is incorrectly separated from the thing it modifies. Usually, as in the case of "Let It Snow," it muddles the meaning of the sentence.

In this case, the phrase "all the way home" seems to modify "but if you'll really hold me tight" when in fact it modifies "I'll be warm." However, placed in the middle of both sentences, listeners are unsure which it modifies.

How to Fix a Misplaced Modifier

That's easy—move it! Unless it is absolutely clear what a modifier is modifying, it should be as close as possible to the thing it modifies to avoid sentence meaning confusion. So, in our "Let It Snow" example, "all the way home" would be moved to follow "I'll be warm." 

Since I'm not a Grinch, we'll chalk up this misplaced modifier to a need to rhyme, but in your day-to-day writing, be sure to check for misplaced modifiers to help reduce confusion-causing clauses (like that alliteration?).

And, to abate any need to now rush to listen to Christmas music, here's Jessica Simpson singing "Let It Snow."

*Via Carols.org 

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