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Dangling Modifier: Understanding the Basics with Examples

UserJack Williams time21 April,2020

Dangling Modifiers are mostly regarded as grammatical errors. “Dangling” in general means hanging and “modifier” means a grammatical item that makes minor changes. So, a dangling modifier is a word or a phrase that leaves the meaning of a sentence with loose ends.

dangling modifiers

What is a Dangling Modifier?

Before we dig deep into learning how to fix dangling modifiers, let us first understand the dangling modifier definition.

So, what is a dangling modifier? According to English grammar, a dangling modifier is a phrase or word that modifies a word/phrase that makes no sense in a sentence. In simple terms, it means that if a word or phrase (modifier) changes the original meaning (modifies) of a different word instead of the targeted one, it is a dangling modifier.

Remember, if a modifier does not make any changes to the Noun or Pronoun, the writer can change the meaning of the sentence.

Example:

Incorrect: Hearing the dreadful news, heartbroken was I.

The modifier should modify the word "I" instead of "heartbroken."

Correct: Hearting the dreadful news, I was heartbroken.

Dangling modifiers are extremely common in writings even of professional writers and occur in two forms. They are:

Distant modifier:

When the modifying word/phrase is far from the targeted word/words that is/are meant to be modified.

For example:

“Tommy was upset with Ray when he returned his broken stereo with an air of nonchalance.”

In this sentence, “with nonchalance” is far away from the intended subject, which is, in this sentence, Ray.

Missing Subject:

When the subject is missing in the sentence, it leaves the meaning of the sentence unclear and confuses the readers.

For example:

“Walking into the washroom, the smell was foul.”

In this case, there is no subject before "walking into the washroom" that can be modified. So, it creates a dangling sentence. Hence, place a dangling modifier before or after the sentence to make more sense like:

“Walking into the bathroom, she encountered a foul smell.”

How to Identify Dangling Modifiers? Tricks & Examples

Dangling modifier mostly occurs in some particular grammatical clauses, phrases, or structures. Some examples of dangling modifiers are:

Participle phrase or Present participle:

Incorrect: Entering the room, the AC was off.

In this sentence, the subject "the AC" is entering the room is wrong.

Correct: Entering the room, I found the AC off.

Some more examples of dangling modifier cases:

Incorrect: Walking in the park, a leech bit him.
Correct: Walking in the park, she was bitten by a leech.

Incorrect: Walking through the woods, the moon looked like a cheese ball.
Correct: Walking through the woods, the hunter saw the moon through the branches of the trees.

Incorrect: Driving by the street, a truck nearly struck us.
Correct: As we drove by the street, a truck nearly struck us.

Past particle phrase or past participle:

Incorrect: Tired and exhausted, a nap was taken by the driver.
Correct: Tired and exhausted, the driver took a nap.

Incorrect: Worn out by a long tiring walk, fainted the girl.
Correct: Worn out by a long tiring walk, the girl fainted.

Perfect Participle:

Incorrect: Having arrived late for the football practice, a written statement was needed.
Correct: Having arrived late for the football practice, the team coach required a written statement.

Incorrect: Having the tea been served, the problem was discussed by the members of the Christmas committee.
Correct: Having been served tea, the Christmas committee members discussed the problem.

Adjective Phrase:

Incorrect: Young and inexperienced, the homework seemed easy to John.
Correct: Young and inexperienced, John found the homework easy.

Incorrect: Old and loose-character, the fifthwedding seemed not tooshameful to him.
Correct: Old and pervert, he didn’t think the fifth wedding to be shameful. 

Reduced Adverbial Clause:

Incorrect: While walking to the church, her leg was broken.
Correct: While she was walking to the church, she broke her leg.

Incorrect: While going to school, a cat bit me.
Correct: While going to school, I was bitten by a cat.

Incorrect: Unlike most birds, there are no colourful feathers on vultures’ heads and necks.
Correct: Unlike most birds, vultures do not have colourful feathers on their heads and necks.

Incorrect: After jumping off the ship, a sea-horse bit the man.
Correct: After jumping off the ship, the man was bitten by a sea-horse.

Incorrect: While biking home before the storm, an accident occurred to Logan.
Correct: While biking home before the storm, Logan encountered an accident.

How to Fix Dangling Modifiers or Misplaced Modifiers?

For fixing dangling modifiers, a writer needs to do much more than rearrange a couple of words in a sentence. You need to make some new addition to the sentence so that the modifier can accurately describe the targeted word/phrase.

Incorrect: Hungry, devoured the leftover cake.
Correct: Hungry, the boys devoured the leftover cake.

Incorrect: Rummaging in his giant backpack, failed to find sunglasses.
Correct: Rummaging in his giant backpack, Jack failed to find hissunglasses.

Incorrect: With a sigh of disappointment, the fancy skirt returned to the stand.
Correct: With a sigh of disappointment, Jenny returned the fancy skirt to the stand.

Also, remember these two simple tips for accurately correcting a dangling modifier:

  1. Rewrite the main clause:

An easy way to fix a dangling modifier is to rewrite the main clause and leave the modifier as it is. This way, the sentence will begin with the subject being modified. Example:

Incorrect: Having injured her right hand, it was difficult to play badminton.
Correct: Having injured her right hand, Kate had difficulty playing badminton.

In the corrected sentence, the subject Kate appears after the modifier phrase.

  1. Rewrite the modifier phrase:

Another way to correct a dangling modifier is to include the subject in the introductory phrase and leave the main clause as it is.

Example:

Incorrect: Having injured her right hand, it was difficult to play badminton.
Correct: Since Kate had injured her right hand, it was difficult for her to play badminton.

In the corrected sentence, the dangling modifier is revised with a complete clause that highlights the subject's as in Kate's actions.

Dangling modifiers can bring down the quality of your academic paper. You certainly don’t want that, do you? So, learn how to detect and rectify dangling modifiers from the examples cited above and ensure that your paper is grammatically impeccable.

However, if it is still proving to be challenging for you to detect dangling modifiers, do not hesitate to take expert help from professional writers and editors.

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