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Amy Lou Jenkins is the award-winning author of Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting

"If you combined the lyricism of Annie Dillard, the vision of Aldo Leopold, and the gentle but tough-minded optimism of Frank McCourt, you might come close to Amy Lou Jenkins.Tom Bissell author of The Father of All Things 

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Misplaced Modifiers and Bigger Breasts

by Amy Lou Jenkins


We all hate unwanted E-mails. I usually just delete them. One title stood out in the burdens of hyperbolic  congratulations and incredible offers:  " Attract Men With Bigger Breasts." I'm not particularly fond of men with bigger breasts, but I did a bit-o-grammar review to consider why this sentence read not just off-color, but funny.

Let's break this sentence apart and see what's wrong with it.

"Attract Men With Bigger Breasts"

Subject is an implied "You"
Verb is "attract"
The direct object is "men"
"With bigger breasts" is a prepositional phrase.

A prepositional phrase is made up of the preposition, its object and any associated adjectives or adverbs. A prepositional phrase can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. The most common prepositions are "about," "above," "across," "after," "against," "along," "among," "around," "at," "before," "behind," "below," "beneath," "beside," "between," "beyond," "but," "by," "despite," "down," "during," "except," "for," "from," "in," "inside," "into," "like," "near," "of," "off," "on," "onto," "out," "outside," "over," "past," "since," "through," "throughout," "till," "to," "toward," "under," "underneath," "until," "up," "upon," "with," "within," and "without."

In this sentence, the preposition "with" introduces the noun phrase "bigger breasts." The prepositional phrase's ("with bigger breasts") function is not clear.

Is "with bigger breasts" an adjective prepositional phase describing "men"?

Is "with bigger breasts" it an adverb describing (modifier) how to attract men? If so, it's describing an act where the subject is not just far away in the sentence it's not even in the sentence-You is implied. We all know that we have to keep modifiers close to the thing they are modifying.

Even worse than the misplaced modifier, I'm married. I don't need to attract more men-no matter how big their breasts are.

More examples of awkward modifiers.

For those who are married and don't know it, spouses are invited.

I can knit with two colors of yarn when twisted.

Hanging on the wall in a new frame, she loved the portrait.

Smothered in gravy, I enjoyed the potatoes.


Remember to keep your friends close, and your modifiers closer.

A version of this article was published in an AO newsletter in 2006


Amy Lou Jenkins is a writer, speaker, and educator from Wisconsin.   Every Natural Fact; Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting now available for purchase from your local bookstore,  Amazon, and other booksellers. 

"Wisconsin's wild areas become the world in extraordinary debut.  Amy Lou Jenkins' Every Natural Fact is nothing less than sensational." By Pamela Miller, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Amy Lou also writes a Green Living column. 

This article is available for reprint, if this resource box is included with hyperlinks intact. Notify Amy Lou through her contact page.