This is “Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers”, section 2.7 from the book Successful Writing (v. 1.0).
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A modifierA word or phrase that qualifies the meaning of another element in a sentence. is a word, phrase, or clause that clarifies or describes another word, phrase, or clause. Sometimes writers use modifiers incorrectly, leading to strange and unintentionally humorous sentences. The two common types of modifier errors are called misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers. If either of these errors occurs, readers can no longer read smoothly. Instead, they become stumped trying to figure out what the writer meant to say. A writer’s goal must always be to communicate clearly and to avoid distracting the reader with strange sentences or awkward sentence constructions. The good news is that these errors can be easily overcome.
A misplaced modifierA modifier that is placed too far away from the word or words it modifies. is a modifier that is placed too far from the word or words it modifies. Misplaced modifiers make the sentence awkward and sometimes unintentionally humorous.
Incorrect: She wore a bicycle helmet on her head that was too large.
Correct: She wore a bicycle helmet that was too large on her head.
Look at the following two examples:
Incorrect: They bought a kitten for my brother they call Shadow.
Correct: They bought a kitten they call Shadow for my brother.
Incorrect: The patient was referred to the physician with stomach pains.
Correct: The patient with stomach pains was referred to the physician.
Simple modifiers like only, almost, just, nearly, and barely often get used incorrectly because writers often stick them in the wrong place.
Confusing: Tyler almost found fifty cents under the sofa cushions.
Repaired: Tyler found almost fifty cents under the sofa cushions.
On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite the following sentences to correct the misplaced modifiers.
A dangling modifierA word, phrase, or clause that describes or modifies something that has been left out of the sentence. is a word, phrase, or clause that describes something that has been left out of the sentence. When there is nothing that the word, phrase, or clause can modify, the modifier is said to dangle.
Incorrect: Riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.
Correct: As Jane was riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.
Incorrect: Walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.
Correct: As Jonas was walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.
Correct: The trees looked like spooky aliens as Jonas was walking home at night.
Incorrect: To win the spelling bee, Luis and Gerard should join our team.
Correct: If we want to win the spelling bee this year, Luis and Gerard should join our team.
The following three steps will help you quickly spot a dangling modifier:
Look for an -ing modifier at the beginning of your sentence or another modifying phrase:
Painting for three hours at night, the kitchen was finally finished by Maggie. (Painting is the -ing modifier.)
Underline the first noun that follows it:
Painting for three hours at night, the kitchen was finally finished by Maggie.
Make sure the modifier and noun go together logically. If they do not, it is very likely you have a dangling modifier.
After identifying the dangling modifier, rewrite the sentence.
Painting for three hours at night, Maggie finally finished the kitchen.
Rewrite the following the sentences onto your own sheet of paper to correct the dangling modifiers.
Rewrite the following paragraph correcting all the misplaced and dangling modifiers.
I bought a fresh loaf of bread for my sandwich shopping in the grocery store. Wanting to make a delicious sandwich, the mayonnaise was thickly spread. Placing the cold cuts on the bread, the lettuce was placed on top. I cut the sandwich in half with a knife turning on the radio. Biting into the sandwich, my favorite song blared loudly in my ears. Humming and chewing, my sandwich went down smoothly. Smiling, my sandwich will be made again, but next time I will add cheese.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
See how creative and humorous you can get by writing ten sentences with misplaced and dangling modifiers. This is a deceptively simple task, but rise to the challenge. Your writing will be stronger for it. Exchange papers with a classmate, and rewrite your classmate’s sentences to correct any misplaced modifiers.