Phrases and Clauses as Modifiers

Introduction to Modifiers

A modifier describes, clarifies or qualifies another word or word group. It can be a word, a phrase, or a clause. When a modifier elaborates, it gives more detail to the word or phrase it is attached to, and it enhances sentence structure by adding complexity to simple sentences. This tutorial focuses on using phrases and clauses as modifiers.

Identifying Modifiers: Phrases and Clauses

Modifiers are crucial in English grammar to add detail or description. Take a look at these two sentences:

1. The book is on the table.
2. The book, which has a blue cover and worn-out pages, is on the table.

In the second sentence, the phrase "which has a blue cover and worn-out pages" modifies or describes the book. This addition makes the sentence more descriptive and interesting.

Phrases as Modifiers

Phrases are a group of words that lack either a subject, a predicate, or both. There are different types of phrases that can be used as modifiers. These include prepositional phrases, adverbial phrases, and adjective phrases.

1. Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase starts with a preposition and ends with a noun, a pronoun, or a noun phrase.

For example:

I found my keys under the bed.

The phrase "under the bed" modifies the verb "found" by explaining where the keys were found.

2. Adverbial Phrases

An adverbial phrase contains an adverb and modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

For example:

She sings very beautifully.

The phrase "very beautifully" modifies the verb "sings" by explaining how she sings.

3. Adjective Phrases

An adjective phrase contains an adjective or a participle and modifies a noun or a pronoun.

For example:

The girl with the blue hat is my sister.

The phrase "with the blue hat" modifies the noun "girl" by describing which girl is referred to.

Clauses as Modifiers

Clauses are another crucial part of English grammar. A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. Clauses used as modifiers, also known as subordinate or dependent clauses, describe another part of the sentence. They cannot stand alone as a sentence. There are two main types of clauses: adjective clauses and adverb clauses.

1. Adjective Clauses

Also known as relative clauses, these start with a relative pronoun like 'who', 'which' or 'that'. They modify a noun or a pronoun.

For example:

The cake, which is chocolate, is on the table.

The clause "which is chocolate" is an adjective clause modifying the noun "cake".

2. Adverb Clauses

These types of clauses modify verbs, adjectives, or adverbs and often start with subordinating conjunctions like 'although', 'if', 'because', and 'when'.

For example:

I will go to the party if I finish my work.

The clause "if I finish my work" is an adverbial clause modifying the verb "will go".

Some Important Guidelines with Modifiers

While using phrases and clauses as modifiers, make sure you place them as close as possible to the word or phrase they are describing. Additionally, ensure that it is clear what word a modifier is referring to. Misplacement of modifiers can lead to confusion or unintended hilarity. For example:

Wrong: The lady served sandwiches to the men on paper plates.
Right: The lady served sandwiches on paper plates to the men.

In the first sentence, it seems like the men are on paper plates, which is not the case. The corrected sentence conveys that the sandwiches were on paper plates.


Modifiers – phrases and clauses – significantly contribute to the richness of our speech and writing. They add detail and provide additional information in a sentence. Properly applied, they can transform plain statements into engaging narrative. Remember to use them accurately to avoid ambiguity and precision in your writing. Happy writing!

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