How to Identify and Fix Dangling Modifiers
Covered with hot melted cheese, we ate the pizza.
(Ouch! That hot cheese must have hurt!)
Smashed beyond repair, Bert saw his watch lying on the court.
(How did the dog get on their plates?)
The hunter crouched behind a tree waiting for a bear to come along with a bow and arrow.
Can you identify the dangling modifiers in the examples above?
A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about something. In the examples above, obviously it was the pizza that had hot melted cheese, not the person eating it. Bert wasn’t smashed, his watch was. The scraps of meat were on the plates, obviously not the dog, and a bear can’t carry a bow and arrow.
A dangling or misplaced modifier, is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies or describes. This awkward wording can not only cause confusion, but is also quite often illogical.
How to Correct Your Dangling Modifiers
Misplaced modifiers can usually be corrected by moving the modifier to a more sensible place in the sentence, generally next to the word it modifies.
In the first example, move the modifier closer to what it modifies:
We ate the pizza that was covered in hot melted cheese.
In the second example, move the modifying clause closer to the watch that it modifies:
Bert saw his watch, smashed beyond repair, lying on the court.
How might you correct the others?
Sometimes, just one word can cause confusion, as in the misplaced modifier examples below:
Leaving the mall, Emily found a gold man’s ring.
In this example, Emily found a ring belonging to a gold man. Of course not, so just move the modifier, gold, immediately before the word it describes, ring.
Leaving the mall, Emily found a man’s gold ring.
How would you fix this example? Identify the modifier and the item it is modifying:
The torn woman’s coat lay on the seat.
To correct the misplaced modifier, move the object closer to what it is modifying:
The woman’s torn coat lay on the seat.
Be Careful of Altering Meaning
Take care when correcting misplaced modifiers that you don’t create two differing meanings:
The professor said on Thursday he would return our portfolios.
Did the professor say this on Thursday OR will he return them on Thursday?
On Thursday, the professor said he would return our portfolios.
Avoid these illogical (and amusing) mistakes by carefully proofreading your writing. Think about what you are trying to describe, and ask yourself if you have placed any modifying words are phrases in the best position in the sentence.
Try correcting the dangling modifiers below. How did you do?
- After having been run through the computer, the researcher used the figures for his report.
- Returning after a year out of the country, my cat did not even know me.
- I held the ticket tightly in my hand that my friend gave me.
- After dancing solo on stage, the audience applauded Anna’s performance.
- Totally destroyed by the tornado, he had to rebuild his barn.
Do you have any amusing experiences with dangling modifiers? Share your goof – all in good fun!