Dangling modifiers by Angela Caldin

Most people know a modifier when they see one. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that clarifies or describes another word, phrase, or clause. But do they know a dangling modifier when they see one?

Dangling over a cliff needing something to modify

I like the term dangling modifier because it is so evocative and so unlike any other grammatical term. I imagine someone hanging off a cliff or escaping by clinging on to a window sill. With a dangling modifier, the thing it is meant to modify isn’t even in the sentence, so it seems to modify something else, but ends up not making sense.

Dangling modifiers make the meaning of a sentence unclear. As you can see from the following examples, the sentences need to be restructured to include the missing words the modifiers describe.

Example 1

Hoping to get her attention, she ignored the generous gesture and walked away with someone else.

Whoever made that gesture isn’t even mentioned, which is what makes this sentence so confusing. The modifier hoping to get her attention is left dangling, because whoever is hoping isn’t even there.

We need to include the missing subject:

Hoping to get her attention, her ex paid the bill for the whole party, but she ignored the generous gesture and walked away with someone else.

Example 2

Having missed school for a week, a written doctor’s note was needed.

The written doctor’s note hasn’t missed any school, but someone has. We need to make clear who has missed school:

Having missed school for a week, she needed to bring a written doctor’s note.

Banksy artwork Man Hanging from Window

Example 3

After reading the hotel’s pet policy, our dog stayed at a local kennels during our holiday.

This makes it sound as though the dog read the hotel’s pet policy and that staying at a local kennels was his idea.

The dog’s owners need to be in the sentence:

After reading the hotel’s pet policy, we left our dog at a local kennels during our holiday.

Here’s another clever dog that seems to be able to drive:

While driving to Manchester, my dog stuck his head out of the car window.

We need to make clear that it wasn’t the dog that was driving:

While driving to Manchester, I saw that my dog stuck his head out of the car window.

Example 4

Without knowing the recipe, it was risky to make a cake from scratch.

The prepositional phrase without knowing the recipe should modify a person, but not a single person appears in this sentence.

We can fix it by adding the subject who doesn’t know the recipe.

Without knowing the recipe, Bridget felt it was risky to make a cake from scratch.

Let us know what you think

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