Grammar Tips: Dangling & Misplaced Modifiers

19 Mar

A modifier clarifies, describes, or provides more detail. For example:

Having already completed the reading, Nikki started her homework.

In the above sentence, “Having already completed the reading” states an action without naming who is doing the action. This makes it a modifier. This modifier works because Nikki, the subject of the sentence and the doer of the action, is identified in the main clause that follows, and we can logically deduce that Nikki must be the one who has completed the previous action (of “Having already completed the reading”). All modifiers in this sentence are correctly integrated and accounted for.  

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word that is not clearly stated in the sentence. If we take our previous example, but we remove Nikki from the sentence, we have a dangling modifier.

Having already completed the reading, the homework was started.

In this sentence, “Having already completed the reading” still states an action, as it did in our previous sentence. It is also still modifying the main clause of our sentence (“the homework was started”). The problem, though, arises in the issue that the homework cannot start itself. Since the doer of the action (which we know is Nikki from our previous example) is not clearly stated here, and our action does not modifier the doer (as homework, unfortunately, does not do itself), we have a dangling modifier here.

There are several strategies that we can implore to correct this dangling modifier.

  1. Combine the dangling modifier and main clause into one complete sentence.
    1. Example: Nikki started her homework after completing the reading.
  2. Change the dangling modifier into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer.
    1. After Nikki finished the reading, it was easy to start her homework. 
  3. Name the logical doer of the action as the subject of the main clause.
    1. Example: After completing the reading, Nikki started her homework.

 Modifiers can also pose problems when we misplace them. A misplaced modifier occurs when the subject of the modifier is unclear because the modifier is poorly placed within the structure of the sentence. This can lead the reader to be unsure of what word the modifier is describing, or it can lead readers to believe the modifier is describing one word, when it is really describing another. For example:

The questions were just too difficult in the textbook.

In this example, our modifier is “in the textbook”. The problem, though, lies in what it is modifying. If the writer wants to suggest that the questions are easier when completed in other areas, then the sentence is correct. But here, the modifier “in the textbook” is connected with the word difficult, where we want it to be connected to the questions. To correct this issue, we can move the modifier:

The questions in the textbook were just too difficult.

We could further revise this sentence if we want to go into more detail (ex. The questions in the textbook were just too difficult for Samuel), but as long as our modifier is modifying the correct part of our sentence, our sentence is now okay.

Think you’ve got a hang of dangling and misplaced modifiers? Take this practice quiz to find out!

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3 Responses to “Grammar Tips: Dangling & Misplaced Modifiers”

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  1. Word Crimes! | The Christ College Writing Center - August 27, 2014

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  2. 38 Common Spelling and Grammar Errors Explained | The Christ College Writing Center - October 24, 2014

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  3. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

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