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  Dangling Modifiers
by Lee Masterson


"Having been thrown into the air, the dog caught the ball."

The only real way to describe a "dangling modifier" is to show you a really exaggerated example, like the one above. I'm sure the writer of this sentence did not mean that the dog was thrown into the air, but to a reader the meaning is not immediately clear.

In this sentence, the subject (
the dog) is the 'doer' of the main clause - or action - (caught the ball). In the modifing part of this sentence (having been thrown into the air) the 'doer' of the main clause is not clearly stated. It does not directly relate to the subject of the main clause, and so, it would be considered a dangling modifier.


Revision 1: When the ball was thrown into the air, the dog caught it.

The modifying phrase is now a dependant clause. The meaning is clear.

Revision 2: The dog caught the ball that had been thrown into the air.

Now the phrase and main clause have been turned into a simple sentence.



What is a Dangling Modifier?

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about something else. It is usually placed as closely as possible to what it describes.

A dangling modifier is a phrase or clause that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence, or that does not connect grammatically with what it is intended to modify.

Many dangling modifiers occur at the beginning of sentences - often as introductory clauses or phrases, but can also appear at the end.

In English sentences, the 'doer' must be the subject of the main clause that follows.



Dangling Modifiers at the Beginning of Sentences

Example 1: "Having finished eating, the dog stalked out the door."

Having finished states an action, but does not name the 'doer' of that action. In this example, the dog is logically the subject doing the action of stalking out the door, so this sentence does not have a dangling modifier.

Always try to find the first noun following the modifier. In this example,
the dog is the first noun to follow the modifier. As the two logically fit together, a reader will be able to easily discern the meaning of this sentence.


Example 2: "After eating the dog chow, the bowl was empty."

The subject of the main clause here -
the bowl - did not eat the dog chow, so this sentence has a dangling modifier.

A possible revision for this sentence could be: "After eating the dog chow,
the dog saw that the bowl was empty."

The doer of the action is now
the dog and the modifier makes sense.

Another possible revision could be: "The dog ate the dog chow and the bowl was then empty."



Dangling Modifiers at the End of Sentences

Example: "The closet was empty, having packed everything into the suitcase."

The closet - the subject of the main clause - is not supposed to have put anything in the suitcase.

To revise this sentence, name the appropriate or logical doer of the action as the subject of the main clause. In this example,
the closet is the subject. Then, change the phrase that dangles into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer of the action in that clause.

Possible Revision: "Aydan emptied the closet, having packed everything into the suitcase."

I admit this sentence does sound a little awkward, but it is technically correct. Let's combine the phrase and main clause into one.

Possible Revision: "Aydan emptied the contents of his closet into the suitcase."



Spotting a Dangling Modifier

1. Check your sentences to see if you have inserted any modifying phrases.

2. If you find one, pinpoint the first noun that follows. This will be the noun that is being modified.

3. Make sure the modifier and noun go together *logically*. If they don't, chances are you have a dangling modifier

4. Revise the sentence


Using the guide above, can you tell whether the following example has a dangling modifier?

Example: "Having jumped up into the air too late to catch it, the ball fell to the ground."



Revising a Dangling Modifier


1. Name the appropriate or logical doer of the action. The doer will be the subject of the main clause.

2. Change the phrase that dangles into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer of the action in that clause.

3. Combine the phrase and main clause into one.


Now we have some ways to amend the above example, let's take another look at it.

"Having jumped up into the air too late to catch it, the ball fell to the ground."

This sentence says that the ball jumped up too late to catch it. To revise this sentence, decide who actually jumped up into the air.

Revision 1: Having jumped up into the air too late to catch it, the dog let the ball fall to the ground.

The main clause now identifies the person (
the dog) who did the action in the modifying phrase (jumped up).

Revision 2: The dog jumped into the air too late to catch the ball and he let it fall to the ground.

The phrase and main clause have now been merged into one.



There are many other ways to avoid and edit dangling modifiers. How you choose to rewrite your own work is completely up to you - but what is important is that you know how to spot the problem in the first place.


Copyright Lee Masterson. All rights reserved.


Resources:
http://www.vic.uh.edu/ac/grammar/dangling.html

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/cws/wworkshop/grammar/dangling_modifiers.htm

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_dangmod.html

http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000012.htm

http://www.grammarbook.com/exercises/grammar/dangle.html

http://www.dianahacker.com/bedhandbook/subpages/dangling.html

 



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