Six years ago, I heard an advertisement on the radio. The announcer was describing a new cell phone:
“It’s just not stylish…”
Not stylish? Why would anyone want to buy a phone that's not stylish?
Further thought made me decide they had misplaced their modifier, not their minds—their limiting modifier. I was pretty sure that what the company had been aiming for was something more like this:
It’s not just stylish…
Why is it important to pay attention to limiting modifiers, a small class of little words? Because, as you can see, they can make big difference to your meaning.
Limiting modifiers limit the scope of what they modify. Some of the most common are just, only, almost, and nearly. Readers will automatically assume that what is being limited is the item occuring immediately after the modifier.
Limiting modifiers are, in some ways, more flexible than other modifiers, as they can occur in many different places in a sentence, modifying a noun or a verb—but the change in location signals a change in meaning:
So, misplace your keys, your Mighty Mouse stapler, your to-do list, but never your modifiers. It’s just not stylish.
How do you feel about limiting modifiers? Are they friend or foe? Have you any good examples to share?
Lisa is a developmental editor and a copy editor, as well as being a writer herself. She loves helping writers bring their books into the hands, heads, and hearts of readers.