There are many common grammatical mistakes that can make your writing look less professional. One of the most common mistakes is called a dangling modifier.
So what is a dangling modifier? The short answer is that a dangling modifier is a word or clause that’s attached to the incorrect subject.
It’s important to learn how to identify and fix dangling modifiers if you want your writing to be clear and effective.
This article will explain what a dangling modifier is and how you can find and correct them in your own writing.
A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that gives us more information about a subject.
A dangling modifier occurs when the subject the modifier is supposed to describe is not the subject of the sentence. Instead, the modifier is incorrectly attached to a different person or thing.
Dangling modifiers change the meaning of the sentence in an unintended way. This will make your readers either laugh or scratch their heads, neither of which is your intended outcome.
For example, take the following sentence: “Chewing slowly, the pepperoni pizza tasted delicious.”
Here, “the pepperoni pizza” is the subject of the sentence, and “chewing slowly” is a dangling modifier. It should attach to the person who’s eating the pizza, but instead, it attaches to the pizza itself, making it sound like the pepperoni pizza is the one doing the chewing.
You can rewrite the sentence to include the correct subject, for example: “As I chewed slowly, the pepperoni pizza tasted delicious” or “Chewing slowly, I thought the pepperoni pizza tasted delicious.”
In both of these cases, “I” is the subject of this sentence, so the modifier is no longer dangling.
Let’s look at some examples of dangling modifiers.
Here, the subject is “candy” and the modifier is “dressed up in various costumes.”
This sentence makes it sound like the candy is dressed up in various costumes, which would be fun to see, but isn’t what the author intends to convey.
Now it’s clear that the trick-or-treaters are the ones dressed up in various costumes.
Here, the subject is “the exasperated father” and the dangling modifier is “kicking and screaming.”
This sentence makes it sound like the exasperated father is kicking and screaming while he drags his toddler away.
This revised sentence makes it clear that it’s the toddler doing the kicking and screaming.
Here, the subject is “various topics related to the American South” and the modifier is “while writing her historical fiction novel.”
This sentence makes it sound like various topics related to the American South are writing the historical fiction novel. That would make the author’s job easier, but alas, she probably still has to write the novel herself.
Now it’s clear that the author is the person writing the historical fiction novel.
Here, the subject is “the day” and the modifier is “locked alone in a tall tower.”
This sentence makes it sound like the day is locked in a tower. That’s an interesting thought experiment, but it doesn’t really make sense.
Now it’s clear that the princess is the one locked in the tower.
Here, the subject is “a bar examination” and the modifier is “to succeed as a lawyer.”
This sentence makes it sound like a bar examination wants to be a lawyer.
Now it’s clear that a person is the one who wants to succeed as a lawyer.
To figure out if your modifier is dangling or not, you need to identify the subject of the sentence and make sure that the modifier is truly supposed to describe that specific subject.
We have a few tips for how to do this.
Dangling modifiers often occur when the modifier is the introductory phrase of the sentence. When the modifier is the first clause, the subject it attaches to should come immediately after the comma.
Here’s a sentence with a dangling modifier in the introductory phrase:
In this case, the subject is “a moose,” and the modifier tells us that the moose took the bus home. Huh?
Here’s that same sentence with a grammatically correct modifier in the introductory phrase:
In this case, the subject is “Amy,” and the modifier tells us that Amy took the bus home.
If the subject immediately after the comma isn’t the one the modifier should describe, chances are you have a dangling modifier on your hands.
Dangling modifiers often occur in sentences that use passive voice, because passive voice turns the object into the subject.
Passive voice is when the main verb is some form of “to be,” such as “was” or “am.” Not every sentence in passive voice has a dangling modifier, but it’s sometimes a risky case.
Here are some examples of dangling modifiers written with passive voice:
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So you’ve written a sentence with a dangling modifier. What do you do now?
There’s no need to fear—it’s easy to fix dangling modifiers.
There are two ways to do it. You can either keep the modifier the way it is and rewrite the main clause of the sentence, or you can keep the main clause the way it is and rewrite the modifier.
Let’s take a look at how to use each of these methods.
The first method of fixing a dangling modifier is to keep the same modifier, but change the main sentence so that it has the right subject.
For example, say you have the sentence:
You can keep “shrugging shyly” if you revise the main sentence to contain the proper subject:
Here are some more examples of dangling modifiers that are fixed by rewriting the main clause:
The second method of fixing a dangling modifier is to rewrite the modifier so that it includes the subject within it.
Then it stops being a modifier and just becomes a dependent clause.
Once again, you have the sentence:
This time, you can keep “a nervous giggle escaped her mouth” if you revise the modifier to contain the proper subject:
Here are some more examples of dangling modifiers that are fixed by rewriting the modifier:
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