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12.6 Modifying Phrases or Clauses Between Subject And Verb


A subject + verb combination may need a word or group of words to complete the meaning of the sentence. In addition, a sentence is usually expanded with modifiers that clarify the meaning of the sentence. Recognizing completers and modifiers helps you to understand how sentences work so that you can straighten out tangles more easily as you revise your written sentences.

In Chapter 4, you will learn that


Take a few minutes to observe the room around you. Notice specific objects, the light, the space, and the atmosphere of the place. Look closely for details, including those that seem unimportant at first, like a shadow on the wall or the rumble of the air conditioner. Write your observations--perhaps haphazardly at first--using the word-processing capabilities of your computer, and then organize the observations into groups.

Your class may want to use WebBoard for this exercise. (If this is your first use of WebBoard, click HERE for hints on how to use it.)

1) Use the groups of observations to help you write a paragraph that conveys a picture of the room. Start your first sentence with these words: "When I walk into , the first thing I notice is . . . ." Go on from there. Rewrite your paragraph.

2) Looking at your first sentence, put [square brackets] around the word or phrase that you've written after "the first thing I notice is . . . " This is probably a completer. In the next few sentences, look for words that describe other words. These are probably modifiers. Rewrite those words in italics and try to decide which other word in the sentence each modifier describes. When you finish Chapter 4, you'll be able to find the rest of the completers and modifiers in your paragraph.

"(Subject + verb) WHOM OR WHAT?"

Once you've found the subject and verb of a sentence, you can check to see if the sentence has a completer by asking "whom or what?" after the verb.

Bronson hates jazz.
In this sentence, hates is the verb and Bronson is the subject. You ask "Bronson hates whom or what. . .? The answer is jazz, so jazz is the completer. Here are some others:
|Enchiladas| AREn't always [hot]. (Enchiladas aren't what? [hot])

My |friend| in San Diego MAKES [them] without peppers. (Friend makes what? [them])

BELIEVE [me]. (Remember from Chapter 3 that the subject of a command is you, so for this sentence the question is: "You believe whom?" [me])

After one bite of his enchiladas, your |prejudice| against Mexican food WOULD VANISH instantly. (Prejudice would vanish whom? Prejudice would vanish what? No answer, so there is no completer in this sentence.)

Application 1


The role of completer may be played by a noun, a pronoun, or a word that describes the subject.
The rowdy |girls| WERE MAKING [trouble]. (Noun completer)
The |cop| finally ARRESTED [them]. (Pronoun completer)
|Behavior| like that IS [crazy]. (Completer describes the subject)
A noun names a thing, person, place, or idea. A pronoun takes the place of a noun and makes it possible to avoid repeating that noun.
Chapter 13 discusses pronouns in more detail. The kind of completer that describes the subject is a modifier as well as a completer. The later part of this chapter will explore modifiers in more detail.

Application 2


Don't confuse completers with subjects.

It's important to see the difference between nouns or pronouns acting as subjects and those acting as completers.

At birth, a |baby| HAS three hundred thirty [bones].
The verb is has. "Who or what has?" -- baby = subject.
"Baby has whom or what?" -- bones = completer.

During growth, many small |bones| FUSE.
Verb = fuse. "Who or what fuse?" --bones = subject.
"Bones fuse whom or what? -- no answer, no completer.

Only two-hundred-six |bones| finally SUPPORT an adult's [body].
Verb = support. "Who or what support?" --bones = subject.
"Bones support whom or what?" -- body = completer.

To analyze a sentence, always look first for the verb (see
Chapter 2 for more help). Then find the subject by asking "Who or what (verb)?" Finally, check to see whether there is a completer by asking, "(Subject + verb) whom or what?" The subject usually comes before the verb, and a completer usually comes after the verb.

Application 3

EXTRA NOTE: We can sort completers further into several groups. Each of the completers above performs a slightly different function in its sentence. If you want to learn the differences among these functions, your teacher may give you information and exercises to help you explore these groups in more detail.


A modifier adds to or limits a word's meaning.

Modifiers describe other words, making the meaning of those other words more specific. Modifiers answer the following questions about the words they modify:

What kind? Which one(s)? How many or how much? Whose?
When? Where? Why? How? To what extent? Under what conditions?
Watch this sentence become more specific as it adds modifiers:
BASIC SENTENCE: Women earn salaries.
(How many women?) Many women earn salaries.
(Which women?) Many women in the civil services earn salaries.
(What kind of salaries?) Many women in the civil services earn good salaries.
(When?) Many women in the civil services earn good salaries
after their first few promotions.

Application 4


A single word may play the role of modifier.
Some busybodies cause serious trouble. (Some answers "Which busybodies?" and serious answers "What kind of trouble?")

That creep constantly lies. (That answers "Which creep?" and constantly answers "When?")

Sometimes several single words, each one acting separately, can modify the same word:
He has never felt a generous human impulse. (Never answers "When?", a answers "How many impulses?", and generous and human answer "What kind of impulse?")
Note that when a verb's modifier splits the verb in two, as in the case of never in the example above, the modifers refers to the main verb.

Application 5

There are two kinds of single-word modifiers: adjectives and adverbs. An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun.
Do you remember the yellow tulips we had last year? (The adjective yellow modifies the noun tulips.)

Tall and majestic, they filled the yard with color. (The adjectives tall and majestic modify the pronoun they.)

An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs often end in -ly.
I thought Jean acted strangely at the last meeting. (The adverb strangely modifies the verb acted.)

She was completely silent, with her head bowed and her hands in her lap. (The adverb completely modifies the adjective silent.)

Usually she has a lot to say, though often she speaks very softly. (The adverb very modifies the adverb softly.)


A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends with an object, which is usually a noun or a pronoun.

In the sentences below, the prepositional phrases are in this color. There is an asterisk (*) after each preposition, and the objects of the prepositions, which are usually nouns or pronouns, are in italics. The words modified by the prepositional phrases are in italics, also.

Please open that door beside* you.

Thank goodness we bought that fan by* the window.

We really needed it during* the night

We'd have been miserable without* it.

Notice how the preposition in each sentence shows a relationship between the object and the word that the phrase modifies. Prepositions often show space or time relationships (as in the first three examples above) but sometimes they show other kinds of relationship (as in the fourth example above).

Here is a list of some words that often act as prepositions. Click HERE for a one-page printable duplicate of this list.

Usually space relationshipsExamples
abovedownbeyond Dallas
around town
beside the tracks
toward every stoplight
under the bridge
on these trips
in her steady good humor
Usually time relationshipsExamples
aftersince until the last moment
during the train ride
before until
Other relationshipsExamples
about like like mine
for her
about my best friend
from a small town
of some forgotten old adventures
from without
Don't try to memorize this list. Once you get the feel of the relationships signaled by prepositions, you won't need lists like this any more.

Between a preposition and its object there may be one or more single-word modifiers.

before* the first play
of* Lewis's most important game

Application 6

A prepositional phrase always acts as a modifier.

The roads beyond* Dallas were in terrible shape. (Where?)

I remember that bumpy street beside* the tracks. (Which?)

You always bounced wildly toward* every stoplight. (Where?)

I certainly had doubts about* my best friend then. (What kind?)

TIP: No matter how many modifiers a prepositional phrase may contain, the phrase itself always acts as a unit which modifies some other word. For now, stop looking at what's inside the phrase and examine instead how the whole phrase works as a modifier.

Application 7


A subject + verb may take more than one completer.

Completers may be compounded by the conjunctions and, but, yet, or, nor:

Every 15,000 miles, |you| SHOULD CHANGE the [oil] and the oil [filter] in your car.
A word may take more than one modifier.

Sometimes modifiers simply pile up near the word they modify:

|You| MAY NEED an adjustable long-handled filter [wrench] with a swivel joint.
At other times, modifiers are connected by the same conjunctions that create compound subjects, verbs, and completers--and, but, yet, or, nor:
However, without tools but with a strong bare-handed grip |you| CAN UNSCREW the [filter] simply and quickly.

Application 8




Read aloud the paragraph you wrote at the beginning of this chapter. Look for two more completers to [bracket], italicize five more modifiers, including at least one prepositional phrase. For each modifier, find the word being modified and put it in italicx. Trade papers with a friend (your instructor may assign partners for using WebBoard) and check each other's work. Don't be afraid to disagree; grammarians disagree all the time.

Complete your work on Completers and Modifiers by taking the Mastery Test for this chapter.

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