TIPS AND TRICKS
DANGLING AND MISPLACED MODIFIERS
Dangling modifiers seem to continually crop up, sometimes even in the writing of experienced and educated language professionals. A dangling modifier has no concrete or logical referent in the sentence to which it can attach itself and therefore is said to dangle (it has nothing to modify). The majority of dangling modifiers are verb phrases that are not attached to the intended subject, if any. The issue with these is that the reader could misinterpret the sentence. Writers should be wary of these and rewrite sentences to avoid them.
Dangling modifiers appear at the beginning of a sentence in an opening clause. In this case, the subject should be the first thing that comes after the comma of the opening clause. This “subject,” however, is illogical even though the sentence is usually understood anyhow.
Writers should be particularly wary of dangling modifiers in passive constructions; they tend to slip by unnoticed since the agent of the main clause is not the subject (if even mentioned at all).
DANGLING PRESENT PARTICIPLE
- Walking down the street, the sky was a brilliant blue.
Grammatically, this sentence implies that the sky was walking down the street, and this is clearly not the writer's intention.
- Rewrite: Walking down the street, I noticed the sky was a brilliant blue.
- Rewrite: While I was walking down the street, the sky was a brilliant blue.
DANGLING PAST PARTICIPLE
- Shocked by the gravity of the situation, something had to be done.
Here, one could interpret that something is shocked by the gravity of the situation.
- Rewrite: Shocked by the gravity of the situation, they knew they had to do something.
- To complete the survey properly, the form must be signed and sealed in the provided envelope.
The form is obviously not the one completing the survey.
- Rewrite: To complete the survey properly, participants must sign and seal the form in the provided envelope.
DANGLING GERUND PHRASE
- After having danced all night, it was late and no restaurants were open.
TRICK: When the independent clause begins with there is, there are or an ambiguous it, dangling is inevitable. Rewrite the sentence to avoid these constructions.
- After having danced all night, they realized it was late and no restaurants were open.
DANGLING ELIPTICAL CLAUSES
- When golden brown, remove the cookies from the oven and set them on the counter to cool.
While we understand the subject of when golden brown to be the cookies, grammatically the imperative and unmentioned you is the subject.
- Rewrite: When the cookies are golden brown, remove them from the oven and set them on the counter to cool.
DANGLING PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES
- Like a kid in a candy store, his eyes were bulging at the sight of all they had to offer.
His eyes were clearly not like a kid in a candy store, though that is how the sentence is grammatically understood.
- Rewrite: Like a kid in a candy store, he was so thrilled that his eyes were bulging at the sight of all they had to offer.
- An expert in the field, the professor's work was the focus of the conference.
The professor and not his work is an expert in the field.
- Rewrite: An expert in the field, the professor was the keynotes speaker and his work the focus of the conference.
Dangling modifiers fall under the larger category of misplaced modifiers. They are like dangling modifiers in that they attach themselves to an illogical subject (technically speaking) but are different in that they are not always found in opening clauses; misplaced modifiers can be found anywhere in a sentence.
Most style guides and experts agree that misplaced modifiers are grammatically incorrect and should be rectified, especially in formal writing. Nevertheless, they are viewed as less of a grammatical “cardinal sin” and tend to slip by unnoticed even for the experienced language professional.
- I have only eaten one sandwich this week.
This sentence suggests that all I have eaten this week is one sandwich. The sentence below suggests that I have eaten no more than one sandwich this week.
- Rewrite: I have eaten only one sandwich this week.
MISPLACED RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE
- She put the sparkly red stilettos on her feet that she bought in Oz.
This first sentence suggests that she bought her feet in Oz.
- Rewrite: She put the sparkly red stilettos, which she bought in Oz, on her feet.
This also extends and applies to all the “danglers.” For example,
MISPLACED PRESENT PARTICIPLE
- The teacher was strict on students using detention as a means of discipline.
This sentence implies that it was in fact the students who were using detention as a means of discipline.
- Rewrite: The teacher, using detention as a means of discipline, was strict on students.
MISPLACED PAST PARTICIPLE
- They did their homework aided by their parents.
This sentence implies that the homework was aided by their parents, instead of the children being aided by their parents for their homework.
- Rewrite: Aided by their parents, they did their homework.
MISPLACED GERUND PHRASE
- Barbie and Kelly went to see the doctor having had the day off work.
The structure of the sentence indicates that the doctor had the day off work.
- Rewrite: Barbie and Kelly, having had the day off work, went to see the doctor.
MISPLACED ELIPTICAL CLAUSE
- Remove, when golden brown, the cookies from the oven and set them on the counter to cool.
This implies that the understood imperative subject, you, should remove the cookies from the oven when he or she is golden brown.
- Rewrite: Remove the cookies, when golden brown, from the oven and set them on the counter to cool.
MISPLACED PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES
- The child raced up the magical maroon tree with his eyes full of adventure.
The word order suggests that the tree has eyes that are full of adventure.
- Rewrite: The child, with his eyes full of adventure, raced up the magical maroon tree.
- The car’s engine, a high-class automobile, has a great deal of horse power.
This implies that the engine is a high-class automobile.
- Rewrite: The car, a high-class automobile, has a great deal of horse power.
UH-OH! If you are a very perceptive reader, you probably noticed that there was no mention of misplaced infinitives (if you did not notice, however, do not worry. It was obviously just one of those very rare my-brilliant-mind-must-have-had-a-split-second-break kinds of oversights). Infinitival phrases are often given more latitude than the other misplaced modifiers, if considered wrong at all. The reason behind this is that infinitives are adverbial and therefore modify only the verb (and not the subject). This is further demonstrated in passive constructions: the subject will never be the agent performing the action of the verb. The infinitival phrase therefore modifies only the verb. That being said, those with stricter views on grammar may insist that the infinitive agree with both the verb (that it modifies) and the subject (that is performing the action of the verb). In short, you can sleep easy; do not fret over infinitives that are not in an opening clause in the sentence unless told to do otherwise.
Rewrite the following sentences to avoid dangling/misplaced modifiers if necessary.
1. Fresh out of college, the job market did not hold many opportunities for this year's graduates.Sample answer
2. Having said that, there was no way we were going back.Sample answer
3. As a surgeon, the hospital was a home away from home.Sample answer
4. With hundreds of years of experience, you can trust our company for all of your household needs.Sample answer
5. Unlike many other languages, nouns are not associated with a gender in English.Sample answer
6. To lose weight, avoid sugary and calorie-heavy foods.Sample answer
7. Once the clothes had dried, Mark ironed and folded them before putting them away.Sample answer
8. After doing all the research, a history paper is easy to write.Sample answer
9. She had lost the competition, an upsetting end to an otherwise perfect season.Sample answer
10. Each page of his article was read and reread to ensure that there were no errors.Sample answer
Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
Flick, Jane and Celia Millward. Handbook for Writers. 3rd Canadian ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, Ltd., 1999.Messenger, William E. et al.
The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. 5th ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2008.
The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. rev. and expanded. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Created by: Diana Franz