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In this lesson, we will explore the role of the modifier in the English language.

You will learn how boring sentences would be without modifiers such as adjectives and adverbs. After the lesson, test yourself with a quiz.

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What Is a Modifier?

There are two types of modifiers in the English language: the adjective and the adverb. They have distinctly different roles, and we will examine each, in turn. First, let’s look at the definition of each word.

An adjective describes, or modifies, a noun, which is a person, place, thing, or idea. Adjectives may be single words, or they may be whole phrases. The adverb is different from an adjective in that it primarily modifies verbs, but it may also modify adjectives or other adverbs. Again, adverbs may be single words or whole phrases. Let’s look at some examples.

Adjectives as Modifiers

Adjectives are very necessary in writing, but like too much salt, the use of too many adjectives can produce a negative result! Here are some of the questions adjectives answer:

  • What color?
  • What size?
  • How many?
  • What condition?
  • What emotion?
  • What kind?

An Example

For instance, let’s look at the phrase ‘the dog.

‘ If I answer all of the above questions about the dog in one sentence, it might read: ‘I saw one, enormous, brown, angry, old collie cross the street.’ As you can see, answering every question with an adjective in the same sentence is not always the recipe for a good sentence, but you get the idea.The adjective phrase is helpful. You can tell you are using an adjective phrase if the words point back to a noun in the sentence. For instance, let’s look at the sentence, ‘My mother cooks.’ Adding adjectives can clarify many helpful details about my mother.

For instance, a better sentence might read: ‘My gracious mother, who is Italian, cooks spaghetti that could make the angels swoon.’ The word ‘gracious’ serves as a single adjective. The phrase ‘who is Italian’ further describes the noun ‘mother,’ while the phrase ‘that could make the angels swoon,’ further modifies the noun ‘spaghetti.’It is worth mentioning that using too many adjectives can make our writing seem laborious or silly. For instance, read the following sentence: ‘Mrs.

Caffey ate 15 ripe, red, delicious, sweet, succulent, fabulous, terrific, store-bought, outstanding strawberries.’ You get the point!

Adverbs as Modifiers

Instead of modifying nouns, adverbs describe verbs. This is easy to remember because an adverb ‘adds’ information to the ‘verb.’ Adverbs answer the following questions:

  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

An Example

Let’s start with the basic sentence, ‘The monkey crossed the road.’ The word ‘crossed’ is our verb, or action word, so we will focus on it as we add the adverbs to the sentence.

If we answer all four questions in our sentence (and remember that it is definitely not necessary to do so in order to write an excellent sentence), our sentence might look like this: ‘At three o’clock, the monkey quickly crossed the road by the fast food restaurant because he wanted to buy a banana milkshake.’ To answer the question ‘when,’ we chose three o’clock. ‘By the fast food restaurant’ answers ‘where.’ ‘Because he wanted to buy a banana milkshake,’ answers the question ‘why,’ and the word ‘quickly,’ lets us know ‘how.’ We can see that using adverbs can greatly improve our writing by providing our readers with additional and often more interesting information.

In addition to modifying verbs, adverbs may modify adjectives and other adverbs. Let’s look at two examples:

  • The very angry bear attacked the tourist.
    • ‘Very’ tells us how angry the bear is, modifying the adjective ‘angry.

  • My brother answered more politely than me.
    • The adverb ‘more’ modifies the adverb ‘politely.’

Misplaced Modifiers

Unfortunately, if modifiers are placed in the wrong section of a sentence, the meaning can be thrown off. For instance, take the sentence ‘Old Mrs. Brown ate the bread.

‘ If one says, ‘Mrs. Brown ate the old bread,’ the meaning of the sentence is changed completely! As another example, ‘Running down the street, Cassie thought the water might cause a flood.’ We could ask whether it is Cassie or the water that is running down the street. The misplaced modifier ‘running down the street,’ makes this sentence very confusing. It would read better if it said, ‘Cassie thought the water that was running down the street might cause a flood.’ The intended meaning is so much clearer! By placing modifiers as close as possible to the words they are describing, this problem can be avoided.

Lesson Summary

Adding modifiers to writing is one way to make our words more interesting and specific. Adjectives and adverbs are both types of modifiers. Without modifiers, our writing would be very bland. Just remember to use the right amount.

Too many modifiers could produce the opposite effect of what we intend, making our writing sound exaggerated or silly.

Learning Outcomes

Completing the video should help you to:

  • Explain what a modifier is
  • Describe how adjectives can be used as modifiers
  • Define adjective phrase
  • Discuss adverbs as modifiers

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