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dangling modifiers

A modifier is a word or word group that adds information to another word in a sentence.

  • The rain drummed loudly on the roof.
    ("loudly" and "on the roof" modify the verb "drummed")
  • Splashing through the puddles, Jenny whistled cheerfully.
    ("Splashing through the puddles" modifies the subject "Jenny")

A dangling modifier is a modifier without the right word to modify. It is said to dangle because it has no word to which it can logically be attached.

Usually, a dangling modifier appears at the beginning of the sentence and should modify the subject—but the right subject just isn’t there:

  • Splashing through the puddles, Jenny’s coat glistened with rain.

The subject coat can’t be splashing through puddles, so the modifier Splashing through the puddles is dangling.

Types of dangling modifiers

Several kinds of words and word groups can dangle. Here are some examples:

Present participles (-ing words):

  • Incorrect: Having failed a second time, a tutor was her only option.  (It’s not likely that the tutor failed.)
  • Correct: Having failed a second time, she decided to see a tutor.

Past participles (-ed words):

  • Incorrect: Dented and cracked, the driver looked glumly at the rear bumper.  (The driver was probably not dented and cracked.)
  • Correct: Dented and cracked, the rear bumper was a sorry sight.

Infinitives (to + verb):

  • Incorrect: To brew a good cup of tea, fresh water is needed.  (Water can’t brew tea.)

Dangling modifiers often result from use of the passive voice. To correct this sentence, simply change from passive to active voice.

  • Correct: To brew a good cup of tea, you need fresh water.

Prepositional phrases:

  • Incorrect: Like a needle in a haystack, it is hard to find a soulmate.  ("It" can’t be like a needle in a haystack.)
  • Correct: Like a needle in a haystack, a soulmate is hard to find.

Adjectives:

  • Incorrect: Large and ungainly, the chair wobbled under the man’s weight.  (Is the chair large and ungainly?)
  • Correct: Large and ungainly, the man perched cautiously on the wobbly chair.