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6 tips to fix the dangling modifier

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Dangling modifiers! Sounds scary? Yes, it does sound scary but is it something to be afraid of? No, because in this article, we will help you identify the dangling modifier and help you become an exceptional writer.

Grammatical rules are often tricky. At times you just break the law or two without even realizing that you have broken it. That can result in loss of marks, or if you are on the job, it can add ambiguity in your reports. If you are a fictional or author lifestyle blogger or tech blogger, these grammar bugs can taint your writing and confuse your audience.

But don’t worry, it is not very difficult to identify these modifiers and eliminate them. First of all, let’s understand what a Dangling Modifier is?

Dangling Modifier. A brief overview and description.

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According to Wikipedia, a dangling modifier is defined as

“A type of ambiguous grammatical construct whereby a grammatical modifier could be misinterpreted as being associated with a word other than the one intended. A dangling modifier is the one that has no subject at all and is usually a participle. It is also called an illogical participle.”

A modifier is a noun, expression, or clause in a sentence that modifies (informs about) another word in the exact phrase. For instance, the term “burger” is changed to “vegetarian” in the following sentence: Example: For a vegetarian burger, I am going to the Mustang Café. Where the clause is not evident about what is being changed, a modifier is called dangling. E.g., ‘The big’ doesn’t define the purpose or condition, which leaves ‘the big’ as a dangling modifier, but ‘This big dog’ is a whole sentence or phrase.

Quite a tricky definition, eh?  Let us make it simpler for you. A dangling modifier is a modifying phrase or word used with the wrong subject, or there is no subject associated. It is a reasonably standard error, and even the most accomplished writers suffer from this naïve little mistake.

Types of Dangling Modifiers

Dangling modifiers is considered irritating errors as they can cause a lot of confusion in the reader’s mind. There are two reasons why modifiers can dangle or leave the reader hanging in his pursuit to understand the sentence. Number one is when you use the modifying word far from the subject or the phrase it is meant to modify. Number two reason is when the author does not put a subject for the modifying word to modify.

So, there are two types of dangling modifiers.

Distant/ Misplaced Modifiers

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In this case, the modifier is placed at a distance from the original or intended subject.

“Flying high above the trees, it was impossible to catch the butterfly.”

Now in the above sentence, it is unclear who is flying above the trees. The second clause is ambiguous because the first participle is not placed appropriately relative to the subject. The butterfly is placed at the end; hence it doesn’t make sense of flying above the trees. Is it the butterfly or the person that’s trying to catch the butterfly?

So, we need to readjust the place of butterfly in the sentence to make it the modifying phrase’s subject.

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“Flying high above the trees, the butterfly was impossible to catch.”

The sentence now makes more sense as the subject has been appropriately adjusted.

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Missing Subject

“Entering into the hall, the smell was strong.”

In the above sentence, it seems that the smell was strong when it entered the room. Although the smell is not a person or walks, what makes it dangle is that it misses the subject it is supposed to modify. In this case, it could be a person or a group of people.

Now, we have identified that the subject is missing, so we can add the subject in the sentence after the modifying phrase, i.e., “Entering into the hall.”

“Entering into the hall, she encountered a strong smell.”

The sentence now modifies the subject “she,” and it is no more dangling.

So now, let’s consider how we can identify and eliminate the dangling modifiers.

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Include a logical subject and identify the subject

“While eating my breakfast, the delivery boy delivered the parcel.”

In the above sentence, do you see anything unusual? It seems that when the delivery boy came to deliver the parcel, he was eating my breakfast. It is not logically correct because why would a delivery boy eat my breakfast. Obviously, it is clear that the writer intended to convey something else.

The simple fix for this kind of problem is to include a logical subject, like in this case, adding “I saw” after the participle can change the meaning of the sentence, and it won’t be dangling anymore.

“While eating my breakfast, I saw the delivery boy delivering the parcel.”

Place the modifier closer to the word or phrase it intends to modify

Consider the following sentence.

Tell the cleaner that you won’t be paying him if the garage is not cleaned firmly.”

This firm is not supposed to modify the sentence in this manner. There is no such thing as firmly cleaning the garage. The adverb “firmly” is placed too far away from the phrase it is supposed to modify. In a quick look, it seems that the cleaner needs a firm reminder that if the garage is not cleaned properly, he won’t be getting paid.

Let’s make amends to the sentence.

Firmly tell the cleaner that he won’t get paid if the garage isn’t cleaned properly.”

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Join two clauses and make one cohesive sentence

Consider the following sentence, “to improve his grade; the exam was retaken.”

In this example, the two clauses aren’t necessary, and confusion is arising as a result. We can eliminate the separation between clauses and create a concise sentence that can convey better meaning. We can modify it in multiple ways to make it briefer and to the point. Consider following fixes

  1. He retook the exam to improve his grades.
  2. He revised the exam to improve his score.
  3. He tried to improve his grades by retaking the exam.

Although dangling modifiers often produce amusing phrases, they often plod a person’s writing and make the author’s intention ambiguous. Thankfully, fixing them is a straightforward process that results in more concise and easier-to-read prose.

I hope you enjoy the reading and understand all about the Dangling modifier. Research Prospect has an extensive range of guides for students who want to learn about academic writing and technical terms like reliability vs validity and more.

About the author:

Natasha Fletcher is a member of the writer’s Team on Essays uk. She has a bachelor’s in Law, Masters in Literature, and a PhD in Economics. Natasha role in the team is to solve students’ problems through content. Natasha is a gold medallist in essay writing. She is a fitness freak and love to play football, ice hockey and basketball.


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Avatar photo
Carter Maddox
Carter is self-described as thirty-three-and-a-half years old and his thirty-three-and-a-half years birthday is always on March 3. Carter characteristically avoids pronouns, referring to himself in the third person (e.g. "Carter has a question" rather than, "I have a question"). One day [in 1984], Carter, raised himself up and from that day forward we could all read what Carter writes.

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