I read the explanation of “Sentence Modifiers” by an English Professor, Mark Canada and it is clearly the best written and I felt compel to repeat what he wrote here.

“Sentence modifiers are the black sheep of English syntax. Unlike nominals, verbs, and auxiliaries, they do not fill standard sentence slots. Furthermore, although we call them “modifiers,” sentence modifiers are not like adjectiveals and adverbials in that they are not intimately tied to any particular element of the sentence. Instead, sentence modifiers introduce ideas into sentences without bearing clear grammatical relationships to them. In fact, sentence modifiers can seem a little “tacked on”–at least in terms of grammar.”

There are numerous forms taken by sentence modifiers and some common ones are listed here:-

1. Appositive: is usually used to modify a noun or a noun phrase and can be restrictive or non restrictive.

a. Restrictive appositive: Footballer David Beckham continues to compete in football matches even after his 30’s.

b. Non Restrictive appositive: David Beckham, the famous footballer, continues to compete in football matches even after his 30’s

(a. “David Beckham” restrict the noun “footballer” to just David Beckham and not any other footballers while in b. “the famous footballer is not essential to identify who David Beckham is so is set off by commas to separate them)

2. Vocative: is also a noun or noun phrase that is used to directly address a person liken to giving instruction or order to a specific person and can come in the beginning, middle or end of the sentence.

a. Ian, make sure you take great care on the road this festive season.

b. It may rain later, ladies, do bring along your umbrellas.

c. You need to pay more attention, Dylan.

3. Adverb: Understandably, they did not have good grades this season.

4. Interjection: Hello, all of you are supposed to clean up before you leave.

5. Subordinate Clause: The girl continued to paint by using her mouth, even after losing the use of her hands and legs.

6. Relative Clause: He was upset on such trivial matter, which was not normal.

7. Absolute Phrase: Head shaking, Dad showed his impatience when we arrived.

Sentence modifiers may seem not important in learning English but it helps the writer or speaker to emphasise on what he is going to say, kind of like a “zoom in” in a movie.

Feel the difference in these 2 sentences:-

  • I want to play with your toys.
  • Please, Ian, can I play with your toys?

This shows that sentence modifier can help soften certain request thus providing us hopefully with a positive action, however this may not be so when parents (myself included) uses their children full name to emphasis their anger when they are upset with their kids.

You may not need to learn or remember all the above 7 sentence modifiers by heart to be able to use them. Usually, you use them daily to clarify or emphasis on the message you want to get across without realising their categories. It is fine. This post is just to highlight that there is such a thing as “Sentence Modifiers” which plays an important role in our life even without us realising it.