What is a Modifier? Definition, Examples of Modifiers

Modifier definition: A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides description in sentences.

What is a Modifier?

In short, a modifier is a describer. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes another word, phrase, or clause.

Example of Grammatical Modifier:

  • He is a cute baby.

In this sentence, “cute” is an adjective modifying the noun, “baby.” The adjective “cute” is a modifier. “Cute” modifies the type of baby.

Types of Modifiers

Several different types of modifiers exist in English. The following is a list of modifiers with explanations and examples.          

Adjective Modifiers

Define modify Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. They modify in that they answer the following questions in relationship to the nouns they modify,

  • What kind?
    • cute baby
    • What kind of baby? A cute baby.
  • Which one?
    • that baby
    • Which baby? That baby.
  • How many?
    • three babies
    • How many babies? Three babies.
  • How much?
    • enough fruit
    • How much fruit? Enough fruit.

Adverb Modifiers

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They modify in that they answer the following questions in relationship to the nouns they modify,

  • When?
    • arrive tomorrow
    • Arrive when? Tomorrow.
  • Where?
    • dance everywhere
    • Dance where? Everywhere.
  • How often?
    • dance frequently
    • Dance how often? Frequently.
  • How much?
    • answer completely
    • Answer how much? Completely.

Participle Phrases

What is modifier A participle phrases is a groups of words that function as adjectives to modify nouns. Participle phrases begin with a present or past participle.

Participle Phrase Examples:

  • The boy riding up and down the street is tired.
    • The underlined participle phrase starts with the present participle “riding”
    • The participle phrase modifies the noun, boy
  • The cabinets stuffed to the brim needed to be organized.
    • The underlined participle phrase starts with the past participle “stuffed”
    • The participle phrase modifies the noun, cabinets

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are groups of words that function as adverbs or adjectives to modify. Prepositional phrases begin with a preposition and end with a noun.

Prepositional phrases modify,

  • Where?
    • by the lake
  • When?
    • on time
  • Who?
    • with you
  • What?
    • besides the dog

Phrases and Clauses as Modifiers

List of modifiers grammar Single words are not the only types of modifiers. Phrases and clauses act as modifiers.

Clause Modifier Examples:

  • The boy who was at the store bought cookies.
    • This is an example of an adjective clause.
    • The adjective clause is a group of words that modifies “boy”

Phrase Modifier Examples:

  • Please take a seat near me.
    • This is an example of a prepositional phrase.
    • The prepositional phrase is a group of words that modifies “seat”

Why are Modifiers Important?

The modifiers Modifiers are critical to the English language (That sentence alone has two!). Without them, we would not be as efficient or effective in our reading and writing. Furthermore, our sentences would be incredibly boring.

Here are a few sentences trying to express a day’s activities without any modifiers:

  • I woke. I ate. I dressed. I drove. I worked. I ate. I worked. I drove. I exercised. I showered. I slept.

That is not engaging or interesting at all!

Here is part of that same schedule with modifiers,

  • I woke up at 6:00 a.m. this morning. For breakfast, I ate a bagel and two eggs. I chose to wear a black suit with a blue shirt and matching tie. At about 9 o’clock, I arrived at work. After a busy morning, I consumed a hearty lunch.

Clearly, modifiers enhance language and affect how we communicate daily.

Misplaced Modifiers

What is a misplaced modifier? A misplaced modifier is when the modifier in a sentence is separated from the word it describes or the word it describes is not present at all.

For example,

  • Walking through the woods in autumn, leaves began falling from the trees.

In this example, the subject that the modifier is describing is not present in the sentence. Leaves cannot walk through the woods in autumn.

The sentence could be corrected as follows,

  • Walking through the woods in autumn, I noticed the leaves falling from the trees.

Misplaced modifiers create strange ambiguity in writing and should be avoided. There are a few different kinds of misplaced modifiers. You can see them here.

Summary: What are Modifiers?

Define modifier: the definition of modifier is a qualifying word, such as an adjective or adverb; also called a qualifier.

In summary, modifiers are:

  • words that function to describe
  • single words or multi-word phrases or clauses
  • essential to language