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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
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.
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.
2: The dog caught the ball that had been
thrown into the air.
Now the phrase and main clause have been turned into a
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.
Modifiers at the Beginning of Sentences
1: "Having finished eating, the dog
stalked out the door."
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
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
Another possible revision could be: "The dog ate
the dog chow and the bowl was then empty."
Modifiers at the End of Sentences
"The closet was empty, having packed
everything into the suitcase."
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
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.
Revision: "Aydan emptied the contents of his
closet into the suitcase."
a Dangling Modifier
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
Using the guide above, can you tell whether the following
example has a dangling modifier?
"Having jumped up into the air too late
to catch it, the ball fell to the ground."
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.
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.
1: Having jumped up into the air too late
to catch it, the dog let the ball fall to the
The main clause now identifies the person (the dog) who did the
action in the modifying phrase (jumped up).
2: The dog jumped into the air
too late to catch the ball and he let it fall to the
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.
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