Things that make editors pull their hair out, day 2: Misplaced and dangling modifiers

Again, with thanks to a fellow editor for this great information!

 

 

Avoiding Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

 

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies / describes. Because of the separation, sentences with this error often sound awkward, ridiculous, or confusing.  Furthermore, they can be downright illogical.

Misplaced Words.

Example 1: On the way home, John saw a gold man’s watch.

The example suggests that a gold man owns a watch.

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.

Corrected Example 1: On the way home, John saw a man’s gold watch.

Now it is the watch that is gold.

   Example 2: The child ate a cold dish of cereal for breakfast this morning.

The example suggests the dish is cold, not the cereal.

Corrected Example 2: The child ate a dish of cold cereal for breakfast this morning.

Misplaced Phrases.

   Example 1: The dealer sold the car to the buyer with leather seats. (a buyer with leather seats?)

Corrected Example 2: The dealer sold the car with leather seats to the buyer.

Example 2: The three bankers talked quietly in the corner smoking pipes. (a corner smoking pipes?)

Corrected Example 2: The three bankers smoking pipes talked quietly in the corner.

Misplaced Clauses.

Example 1: A waiter served a dinner roll to a woman that was well buttered. (well buttered woman?)

Corrected Example 1: A waiter served a dinner roll that was well buttered to a woman.

Example 2:   Ralph piled all the clothes in the hamper that he had worn. (Ralph wore a hamper?)

Corrected Example 2:  Ralph piled all the clothes that he had worn in the hamper.

Be careful!  In correcting a misplaced modifier, don’t create a sentence with two possible meanings.

Example: The teacher said on Monday she would return our essays.

Did the teacher say this on Monday or is she going to return the essays on Monday?

Corrected: The teacher said she would return our essays on Monday. (essays returned on Monday)

Corrected:   On Monday the teacher said she would return our essays. (teacher spoke on Monday)

Dangling Modifiers

dangling modifier is a phrase or clause that is not clearly and logically related to the word or words it modifies  (i.e. is placed next to).

Two notes about dangling modifiers:

  • Unlike a misplaced modifier, a dangling modifier cannot be corrected by simply moving it to a different place in a sentence.
  • In most cases, the dangling modifier appears at the beginning of the sentence, although it can also come at the end.

~Sometimes the dangling modifier error occurs because the sentence fails to specify anything to which the modifier can refer.

Example 1:   Looking toward the west, a funnel shaped cloud stirred up dust.

This sentence does not specify who is looking toward the west.  In fact, there is nothing at all in the sentence to which the modifying phrase looking toward the west can logically refer.  Since the modifier, looking toward the west, is sitting next to the funnel shaped cloud, the sentence suggests that the cloud is doing the looking.

Example 2:   When nine years old, my mother enrolled in medical school.

This sentence suggests that my mother enrolled in medical when she was nine years old!

~ At other times the dangling modifier is placed next to the wrong noun or noun substitute.

Example 1: Walking to the movies, a cloudburst drenched Jim.

Because of the placement of walking to the movies, this sentence suggests that he cloudburst is walking to the movies even though a possible walker – Jim – is mentioned later.

Example 2: Having been fixed the night before, Priscilla could use the car.

Since having been fixed the night before is placed next to Priscilla, the sentence means that Priscilla was fixed the night before.

As the above examples show, dangling modifiers result in inaccurate and sometimes funny images.

How to correct dangling modifiers

Dangling modifiers may be corrected in two general ways.

~First method:

  1. Leave the modifier as it is.
  2. Change the main part of the sentence so that it begins with the term actually modified.
  3. This change will put the modifier next to the term it modifies.

Thus the incorrect sentence

Looking toward the west, a funnel shaped cloud stirred up dust.

Becomes

Looking toward the west, I saw a funnel shaped cloud stir up dust.

 

The second incorrect sentence

Walking to the movies, a cloudburst drenched Jim.

Becomes

Walking to the movies, Jim was drenched by a cloudburst.

 

~Second method:

  1. Change the dangling modifier phrase to a subordinate clause, creating a subject and verb.
  2. Leave the rest of the sentence as it is.

Thus the incorrect sentence

When nine years old, my mother enrolled in medical school.

Becomes

When I was nine years old, my mother enrolled in medical school..

 

The second incorrect sentence

Having been fixed the night before, Priscilla could use the car.

Becomes

Since the car had been fixed the night before, Priscilla could use it.

 

Practicing with Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers.

Part I – Misplaced Modifiers – Directions: The sentences below contain misplaced modifiers.  Circle the misplaced modifier and draw an arrow to where it belongs in the sentence to convey the intended meaning.

  1. A wind blew across the field that was cold and blustery.
  2. Joan had made up her mind to be an architect before she was thirteen years old.
  3. Fortunately, Mark almost sold all his bronze sculptures.
  4. He struck the fish bowl with his forehead, which fortunately was empty.
  5. I told Mick when my new computer arrived I would let him surf the internet.
  6. We only have three more miles to go before reaching the hotel.
  7. Elvis saw a bird sitting on the telephone wire that he could not identify.
  8. Throw that spoiled package of meat into the trash can.
  9. She found a woolen child’s scarf in the yard.

10 Hung across two poles, I saw a clothesline.

 

 Part II – Dangling Modifiers – Directions:  Using either of the two methods explained, rewrite each of the following sentences to correct the dangling modifiers.

  1. At the age of ten, my parents took me to Disney World.
  2. After finishing the ice arena, it will be opened to the public.
  3. While talking, the fire alarm sounded.
  4. Getting up early, the house seemed unusually quiet to me.
  5. Not being aware of what had happened, the confusion puzzled Jill.
  6. Glancing to my left, a fast-flowing stream wound its way through the meadow.
  7. Not knowing his way around the campus, it was hard for Jones to find his classrooms.
  8. As a budding high school athlete, one of my goals was to be a football hero.
  9. My dog slept at my feet while grading papers last night.
  10. By writing a letter to the editor, the public will know your views.

 

Do you recognize this common error? I hope this helps make you more aware of an issue that plagues all of us.  Feel free to share some of the humorous examples you have encountered.

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