When Modifiers Unbuckle, They Give Us a Chuckle

Rob Kyff on

"Watch the birds as they hunt for fish using your own binoculars." Will the birds swoop down and grab your binoculars?

"(A suspect) pleaded guilty to criminal tax fraud for improperly pocketing $5 million in state tax money in Albany County Court." Right in front of the judge?

"(The sitcom 'I Dream of Jeannie') featured a childlike blonde bombshell who lived in a bottle played by Barbara Eden." Did Eden play the part of a bottle? If so, does that make her a bottle blonde?

Whoa! These zany sentences, which were sent to me by Chris Ryan of New York City and emailers Jack Wentland and Delores Davis, respectively, exemplify the confusion and unintended hilarity caused by misplaced modifiers -- adjectives and adjective phrases placed in the wrong spot.

The resulting sentences resemble those cartoonish depictions of space aliens with arms sticking out of their heads and ears protruding from their knees. Earthman, take me to your reader!

See whether you can spot the loco locations in these other sentences sent in by hawk-eyed readers:

"Judge Wells has revoked the bond of Traficant and will be jailed." His Honor in the hoosegow? (Bill Davies, North Haven, Connecticut)

"Every day at Heartland we feature freshly roasted lean meats with no added fats, which are hand carved." Into lard cutlets? (Diane Nagel, Cranberry Lake, New York)

"Fondly named Rose Garden Auto Care, devoted customers can still receive the friendly neighborhood service they were used to." Are those customers collectively known as "RGAC" for short? (Jo Ann Lawlor, San Jose, California)


"The wounded bear, a 2-year-old female of 150 to 200 pounds, was spotted by a woman in a tree." I'll bet the woman climbed that tree fast. (Anonymous, via email)

"Federal tax law requires that donors pay a tax on any gift to an individual worth more than $10,000." And no tax on gifts to people with a lower net worth? (Betty Lundy, West Point, Mississippi)

"There is a U.S. chestnut industry ... Tiny but growing, its passionate proponents are working to make chestnuts a culinary constant." Little children just love those chestnuts! (Lisa Dzis, Hartford, Connecticut)

"A subcommittee sends a bill providing new safeguards in the awarding of state construction contracts to the General Assembly." So now the legislature is awarding contracts to itself? (Peter Beckwith, via email)

"They set up two deck chairs and a plastic owl on a stake that Nick named Lucifer." Was the stake shaped like a devil's pitchfork? (Norman Stevens, Storrs, Connecticut)


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2019 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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