dangling-modifier_blog

Are you looking at the sentence in the image above and feeling stumped about what the problem is? You’re probably not the only one. The sentence has the unfortunate fate of containing a dangling modifier. In today’s blog post, we’ll talk about what dangling modifiers are and how to fix dangling modifiers that get caught in sentences.

What’s a modifier?

The first step to figuring how to fix dangling modifiers is understanding what a modifier actually is. A modifier is a set of words that describes or modifies (get it?) the main part of the sentence. Here are some examples of sentences that contain modifiers:

  • Bursting with excitement, Maura jumped up from her chair.”
  • Exhausted from working a 12-hour shift, Kate crawled into bed as soon as she got home.”
  • While driving to work, I listened to a podcast.”

In each of these sentences, the underlined words describe something about the main noun in the sentence. “Bursting with excitement” describes Maura’s state as she jumped out of her chair. “Exhausted from working a 12-hour shift” describes how Kate was feeling as she crawled into bed. And “while driving to work” describes what I was doing while I listened to the podcast.

What’s a dangling modifier?

Modifiers can add spice to a sentence by giving us more details about what someone is thinking, feeling, or doing. Sometimes, though, we face a case of modifier mischief. What’s modifier mischief? When a modifier doesn’t match the main part of the sentence. All of these sentences contain dangling modifiers:

  • “While running to the subway, Mya’s iPhone was lost.”
  • “Burned on both sides, she threw the fabric out.”
  • “To repair your car properly, it must be sent to a mechanic.”

At first glance, these sentences may seem perfectly fine. After all, they don’t look or sound grammatically wonky. So what’s the problem?

When you have a modifier, the verb in it needs to match the subject of the main part of the sentence. Let’s take another look at the first set of sentences, the ones without dangling modifiers.

Sentences without dangling modifiers:

  • Bursting with excitement, Maura jumped up from her chair.”
  • Exhausted from working a 12-hour shift, Kate crawled into bed as soon as she got home.”
  • While driving to work, I listened to a podcast.”

In each of these sentences, the verb in the modifier describes the subject of the main part of the sentence: “bursting” describes Maura, “exhausted” describes Kate, and “driving” describes what I was doing.

Now let’s look at the second set of sentences, the ones with dangling modifiers.

Sentences with dangling modifiers:

  • “While running to the subway, Mya’s iPhone was lost.”
  • “Burned on both sides, she threw the fabric out.”
  • “To repair your car properly, it must be sent to a mechanic.”

The first sentence is supposed to say that Mya lost her iPhone while she was running to the subway. But that’s not what it says. Instead, it says that Mya’s iPhone got lost while it was running to the subway. (And we all know that iPhones, as sophisticated as they are, can’t run).

Why does the Mya sentence say that her iPhone ran to the subway? Because the verb in the modifier is “running” and the subject of the main part of the sentence is “Mya’s iPhone,” not “Mya.”

The fabric and car sentences have the same problem. The fabric sentence suggests that “she” was burned on both sides (ouch!), and the car sentence implies that the car is the thing doing the repairing (if only).

How to fix dangling modifiers?

Once you know that a sentence has a dangling modifier in it, how do you fix it? You need to change the subject of the main part of the sentence. Let’s take a look at the Mya sentence again to understand how to fix dangling modifiers:

  • “While running to the subway, Mya’s iPhone was lost.”

We know that the problem in this sentence is that “running to the subway” refers to Mya, but the subject of the main part of the sentence is “Mya’s iPhone.” All we need to do is change the subject of the main part of the sentence to “Mya.” This way, the verb in the modifier and the subject in the main part of the sentence will match. Let’s take a look:

  • “While running to the subway, Mya lost her iPhone.”

Now, the verb in the modifier (“running”) and the subject in the main part of the sentence (“Mya”) match. There’s no more modifier mischief here!

We can use the same strategy to fix the dangling modifiers in the other two sentences:

  • “Burned on both sides, she threw the fabric out.”
  • “Burned on both sides, the fabric was thrown out.”
  • “To repair your car properly, it must be sent to a mechanic.”
  • “To repair your car properly, you must send it to a mechanic.”

Summary

Modifiers are helpful in sentences because they give us more information. Sometimes, though, these modifiers create mischief when they don’t match the main part of the sentence that they’re attached to. That’s how we end up with dangling modifiers. The good news is that it’s easy to figure out how to fix dangling modifiers. Change the subject in the main part of the sentence so that it represents what the verb in the modifier describes.
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Needs some tips on streamlining sentences so that they’re clear and easy to read? Check out our post on 16 tips for reducing word counts and writing concisely.
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