What Are Limiting Modifiers? (with Examples)
Limiting ModifiersLimiting modifiers impose restrictions on the words they modify. The most common limiting modifiers are:
Positioning of Limiting ModifiersThe word (or words) a limiting modifier governs is usually immediately to its right in a sentence. In each example below, the limiting modifier is shaded, and the word it governs is in bold.
- Martin knows hardly anybody.
- He hardly knows anybody.
- Only Martin eats pears.
- Martin eats only pears.
Real-Life Examples of Limiting Modifiers
- Space is only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards. (Astronomer Fred Hoyle)
- I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens. (Filmmaker and actor Woody Allen)
- Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. (writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley)
Why Should I Care about Limiting Modifiers?In speech, you will often get away with misplacing a limiting modifier. However, in formal writing, you should spend a few seconds to think about where to position your limiting modifier. The most common mistakes happen with the word only.
Look at these examples:
- Only Jack eats ice-cream. (Jill does not.)
- Jack only eats ice-cream. (Jack does not throw the ice-cream.)
- Jack eats only ice-cream. (Jack does not eat strawberries.)
- Everyone is born with genius, but most people only keep it a few minutes.
(Edgard Varese, 1883-1965)
(It should be only a few minutes.)
- I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.
(Mark Twain, 1835-1910)
(It should be only one way.)