BigDog's Grammar

Dangling modifiers

The best way to begin talking about dangling modifiers is to show you a couple so you can see the problem for yourself: the writer has unintentionally said something that he (or she) didn't intend. The dog wasn't "thrown in the air," and Big Dog wasn't "smashed flat." We can work out what is actually meant. But a reader shouldn't have to work things out.

Sentences like these are funny--but that's just the problem. Any time you draw attention to how you've said something instead of what you've said, your communication suffers. If you're writing something important, and I stop to chuckle over a faulty construction, the overall effect is lost.

So how do you get rid of these? Do the following:

  1. Check for modifying phrases at the beginning of your sentences.
  2. If you find one, underline the first noun that follows it. (That's the one 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. Rewrite the sentence.

Let's go back to the opening sentences and see how this works:

Both sentences begin with a modifying phrase. In number 1, dog is the first noun that follows; in number 2, it's Big Dog. Neither one goes logically with the modifier, so we need to rewrite the sentences. Sometimes you can rework the noun into the phrase itself. Often, you have to completey revise. One possible correction for each sentence is:

There are many ways to get rid of a dangling modifier. How you do it isn't that important, but being able to spot the problem and get rid of it is!

How about a "Self-Test" to see if you really understand. Designed for 3.0 browsers
(You need to review Misplaced Modifiers before taking the test.)

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