What is wrong with each of the following sentences?
- Slipping on the ice, my glasses were broken.
- Having been raised in a barn, it is difficult for him to choose the right fork.
- Expressing your thoughts clearly impressed the selection committee.
- People who read grammar columns frequently make fewer mistakes.
- To get ahead these days, a good education or winning a lottery is a big help.
- Rachel saw a large rabbit on the way to the supermarket.
- Having acquired a cat, our carpet is now in shreds.
- Our neighbour dropped by while I was cleaning the floor with an apple pie.
- The meeting was a great success, having prepared the agenda carefully.
- Juan only drinks three cups of coffee in the morning.
These sentences all illustrate the dreaded dangling or misplaced modifier. A modifier is a word or group of words that modifies (describes or limits) another word or group of words. In the sentence, “I have a blue hat,” the adjective “blue” modifies the noun “hat.” In the sentence, “The man riding the camel is my cousin,” the phrase “riding a camel,” modifies “man.” Careless writing can produce dangling and misplaced modifiers, sometimes with amusing results. Steven Pinker Argues reasonably that dangling modifiers are not really grammatical errors and should be carefully avoided only when they cause real ambiguity or in very formal writing: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/15/steven-pinker-10-grammar-rules-break
Let’s look at each sentence:
- The phrase “slipping on the ice” is dangling because it has nothing to modify in the rest of the sentence. Did my glasses slip on the ice?
- Who was raised in a barn? “Having been raised in a barn” is a dangling modifier.
- This sentence has a misplaced modifier called a “squinting modifier.” Does “clearly” modify “expressing your thoughts” or “impressed the committee”?
- “Frequently” is another squinting modifier.
- Who will get ahead? “To get a good education” is another dangling modifier.
- Was Rachel or the rabbit on the way to the supermarket?
- What do you use to clean your floor?
- Did the carpet acquire the cat?
- Who prepared the agenda?
- What else does Juan do with the three cups of coffee besides drink them?
Try revising the sentences to eliminate the misplaced and dangling modifiers and compare your revisions with mine.
- Slipping on the ice, I broke my glasses.
- Having been raised in a barn, he has difficulty choosing the right fork.
- The clarity with which you expressed your thoughts impressed the selection committee.
- People who frequently read grammar columns make fewer mistakes.
- To get ahead these days, you need to get a good education or win a lottery.
- On the way to the supermarket, Rachel saw a large rabbit.
- Our neighbour dropped by with an apple pie while I was cleaning the floor.
- Having acquired a cat, we now have a carpet that is in shreds.
- The meeting was a great success because the chair carefully prepared the agenda.
- Juan drinks only three cups of coffee in the morning.
Here is an amusing video that features a fatal dangling modifier:
One thought on “Modifiers that Dangle”
Dangling modifiers are always good for a laugh, and your examples prove it. I like to think my writing is free of the dread danglers, but in sure I’ve provided a chuckle or two at one time or another.