Suggest improvements for the highlighted problem area:
The Mississippi River carries more silt than any other river does. Standing on the delta, the river slowly deposits some of this silt in the salty marshes. Thirty tons of silt arrive each second. When thoroughly laden, you can see the river choke the marshes with mud.
As the muddy delta grows, the river seeks a new path to the Gulf of Mexico often. The Mississippi has had seven deltas during the past five thousand years. The delta, therefore, is a collection basin for silt that is always changing.
- The Misplaced Modifier -
Another source of confusion for the reader is a modifier that is misplaced. The thing it modifies is present in the sentence, but, because of poor placement, the reader might be confused when several things in the sentence could possibly be the one thing being modified. Our first example of a misplaced modifier is a single word in our opening paragraph:
As the muddy delta grows, the river seeks a new path to the Gulf of Mexico often.
Does often modify path or seeks? Because the river always goes to the Gulf of Mexico, the modifier must be describing seeks:
As the muddy delta grows, the river often seeks a new path to the Gulf of Mexico.
Now this may seem logical and obvious. And the alternatives may seem silly or ludicrous. But the human mind has an amazing capacity for working in the background, finding all possible connections that could be implied in the words being read. So, as authors, we should work hard to use modifiers that don't send the reader's mind down blind alleys.
Other words such as: almost, merely, nearly, only, scarcely, and simply are called limiting modifiers. To make sure they are used correctly, place them right in front of the word they modify:
Silt only clogs the marshes during floods. [ confusing ]
During floods, silt clogs only the marshes. [ clear ]
Silt clogs the marshes only during floods. [ clear ]