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Whether you’re an inexperienced writer or an expert communicator, the English language can be complex and confusing. There are plenty of grammar mistakes that can crop up in your writing, and one to keep a close eye out for is the dangling modifier.
What Is a Dangling Modifier?
A dangling modifier is a type of misplaced modifier. It’s a grammatical error in which a phrase at the beginning of a sentence doesn’t have the right word to modify, so it ends up modifying the wrong part of the sentence. When a modifier dangles, it changes the intended meaning and creates confusion.
Take the following sentence: “Running at top speed, his wig fell off.” In this example, the clause “running at top speed” is a modifier, and it modifies the noun phrase immediately after it—in this case, “his wig.” Thus, this sentence erroneously sounds as if the wig is the thing running at top speed, when really it’s supposed to be a noun that’s not mentioned in the sentence at all—the man.
In technical terms, the phrase at the beginning can be called many names (a subordinate clause, a dependent clause, a modifying phrase, a participial phrase, a dangling participle, etc.) and take many different grammatical forms (a prepositional phrase, a past participle phrase, a present participle phrase, an adverbial phrase, a one-word phrase, etc.), but it’s always creating the same problem: It’s trying to modify something in the sentence that isn’t there.
6 Examples of Dangling Modifiers
Here are a few examples of dangling modifiers:
- Blue and clear, the man looked out over the ocean.
- Carefully creeping through the brush, the statue frightened her.
- Cooked through, she took the lobster tails out of the oven.
- Horrified, the soccer ball bounced away from the team captain.
- After staying home sick, my written excuse couldn’t be delivered to the professor.
- Dizzy and confused, the handout in class wasn’t making any sense.
How to Identify Dangling Modifiers in Your Writing
Dangling modifiers are easy to recognize during the proofreading phase of editing, once you know what you’re looking for. To quickly check if you have any dangling modifiers in your writing:
- Look at each sentence individually. Check each sentence for an introductory phrase that comes before the subject of the main clause.
- Determine what the introductory phrase modifies. If the sentence has an introductory phrase, ask yourself what noun in the sentence it’s supposed to be modifying.
- Ensure that the modified noun is correct. Look at the first noun phrase after the comma and see if that phrase matches what the introductory phrase is supposed to be modifying.
How to Fix Dangling Modifiers in Your Writing
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If you find a dangling modifier in your writing, here are a few ways you can fix it to restore the meaning of the sentence:
- Insert a new subject of the sentence. The main problem with the dangling modifier is that the sentence subject doesn’t exist. You can simply insert the subject back into the sentence. For instance, in the sentence, “Running at top speed, his wig fell off,” could become, “Running at top speed, he felt his wig fall off.”
- Insert a subject in the introductory clause. If you don’t want to change the second half of the sentence, you can always tweak the introductory clause to give it the subject it needs. For instance, “Running at top speed, his wig fell off” becomes, “While he was running at top speed, his wig fell off.”
- Rearrange the sentence. Often, it’s possible to rearrange the entire sentence to fix a dangling modifier, usually by moving the introductory clause and integrating it into the rest of the sentence. For instance, “Cooked through, he took the lobster tails out of the oven” becomes, “He took the lobster tails out of the oven once they were cooked through.”
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