What is a dangling modifier, you ask?
Let’s start first with the definition of a modifier. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that gives you more information about a subject or concept. Take a look at the following sentence:
- Genuinely mortified, Janie smoothed down her skirt, which had blown up in a gust of wind to expose her Spanx.
There are a couple modifiers in this sentence: one at the beginning to let the reader know about Janie’s emotions (Genuinely mortified), and the second at the end to let us know what happened with her skirt (it had blown up).
A modifier needs to be placed directly before or after its intended target. In the above case, we know who was mortified and what the wind blew.
Sometimes an inexperienced writer will dangle those modifiers and change the meaning of the sentence. Consider the following:
- Genuinely mortified, a gust of wind had blown up Janie’s skirt, exposing her Spanx.
In that version, it reads as though the wind was mortified rather than Janie.
- Genuinely mortified, the skirt was smoothed down by Janie, which had blown up in a gust of wind
In that version, the skirt was mortified and Janie was blown up by the wind.
In both examples, there is a lack of clarity and your reader will probably need to go back and try decipher the sentence.
So how do you make sure your modifier is not dangling?
When you use a phrase or clause at the beginning of a sentence, identify the subject of your main clause. Does your phrase or clause describe it? If not, it’s dangling. Use the same test for any clause or phrase that comes after your subject. Another example:
- To get his free pizza, a coupon was used when ordering.
Rewriting this sentence to combine the phrase and the main clause makes it much more accessible and easy to read:
- He got a free pizza by using a coupon when ordering.
A final example:
- Having finished their homework, video games were the next item on the agenda.
Video games don’t do homework. At least, not yet. The following rewrite helps you clarify whose homework was finished.
- Having finished their homework, the boys turned to video games, the next item on their agenda.
Now that you understand dangling modifiers, you’ll be able to catch those danglers and make them clearer. Good luck!