A modifier is a word or group of words that describes—that is, modifies—another part of the sentence. Modifiers answer questions like What kind? Where? Why? When? How? and In what manner? Modifiers can add color or energy to a sentence, but unlike nouns and verbs, they are not needed to make a sentence complete.
Some modifiers modify subjects or objects. They describe the subject or object of a sentence, telling us what kind of person, place, thing, or idea it is.
The red robin found a worm.
Here, “red” modifies the subject, “robin,” telling us what kind of robin found the worm.
A man in a top hat entered the room.
The phrase “in a top hat” modifies the subject, “man,” telling us what kind of man entered the room.
Brian envied people who grew up speaking more than one language.
The clause “who grew up speaking more than one language” modifies the object, “people,” telling us what kind of people Brian envied.
Some modifiers modify predicates. They describe where, why, when, how, or in what manner something happened.
The shoppers quickly filled their carts.
Here, the word “quickly” modifies the predicate, “filled their carts.” It tells us in what manner the shoppers filled their carts.
Fatima ran to the bus stop.
The phrase “to the bus stop” modifies the predicate, “ran.” It tells us where Fatima ran.
The actor wore sunglasses so that he wouldn’t be recognized.
The clause “so that he wouldn’t be recognized” modifies the predicate, “wore sunglasses.” It tells us why the actor wore sunglasses.
The prisoner escaped by disguising herself as a guard.
The phrase “by disguising herself as a guard” modifies the predicate, “escaped.” It tells us how the prisoner escaped.
Some modifiers modify other modifiers. They make the modifier they describe more specific.
The students were very happy that the school year was almost over.
The modifier “very” describes another modifier, “happy,” telling us how happy the students were.
The dog’s bright blue eyes captivated the children.
The modifier “bright” describes another modifier, “blue,” telling us what kind of blue the dog’s eyes are.
Our grandfather tells us the most amazing stories about his childhood.
The modifier “most” describes another modifier, “amazing,” telling us how amazing the grandfather’s stories are.
Modifiers can also modify a whole sentence.
Unfortunately, the baker lost the recipe.
Here, the modifier, “unfortunately,” describes the entire sentence. It doesn’t describe just the subject, “baker,” or just the verb, “lost,” or just the object, “recipe.” Rather, it describes the situation that all three parts of the sentence combine to convey.
And, of course, a single sentence can combine any or all kinds of modifiers—those that modify the whole sentence, those that modify subjects or objects, those that modify predicates, and those that modify other modifiers.
Luckily, the extremely brave firefighters put out the blaze that was rapidly consuming the house.