Sunday 30 December 2012

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Trying to get a simple definition of a Dangling Modifier from a grammar source can be frustrating. When I need to look something up, I don't want a complicated answer that makes me more confused that I already was.

So here is the simple definition of a Dangling Modifier with some examples.

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence.

You do have a certain amount of freedom in deciding where to place the modifier in a sentence:

     Sue tamed the dragon easily.

     Sue easily tamed the dragon.
     Easily Sue tamed the dragon.
However, you will want to be wary of the misplaced modifiers as their position can modify the wrong thing.  Writing can be greatly improved by paying attention to the misplaced modifier.

The single-word modifiers should be placed near the word or words they modify so that the reader gets a clear message of what you are saying. Consider these sentences:

     [wrong]  After Sue's dragon-speaking lessons, she could understand dragon language spoken by the professor easily.

Does Sue understand dragon language easily, or does the professor speak it easily? 

The next sentence makes the meaning clear:

     [right]   Sue could easily understand dragon language after her dragon-speaking lessons taught by the professor.

It is also important to be careful about where you put limiting modifiers. These are words like 
"nearly", "just", "only", "almost", etc. Misplaced limiting modifiers can change the entire meaning of a sentence when placed next to the wrong word:

     [wrong] Sue almost ate all of the dragon's food. (she didn't "almost eat" it)

     [right] Sue ate almost all of the dragon's food.

     [wrong] Sue has nearly annoyed every dragon she plays with. (she hasn't "nearly annoyed" them)

     [right]  Sue has annoyed nearly every dragon she has played with.

So, the lessons here are for Sue: While easily taming your dragon and easily speaking his language, do not continue eating almost all of the dragon food and annoying nearly every dragon you play with.

More grammar lessons to come regarding: misplaced phrases and clauses; squinting modifiers; split infinitives; and more about dangling participles.

Sheesh, there's a lot of rules in English.

copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2012


  1. Boy, I have been having a difficult time lately with the constantly breaking, but not a lemon, laptop and the fractured patella with brace, but now to be dangling? My, my how you get my world. :)

    8O (just ignore if it flops)

    The good new is this: I get confused over dangling modifiers and your post truly explained this better than I've seen. Maybe this is so because I am actually in the equation as must pay attention, but I don't think so. I'd stop paying attention in a tornado if it twirled too fast to keep up.

    Maybe this art teacher gig is a warm-up for a real teaching job. You could start a website and give us dangling writers some grammar lessons.

    It really is a good post Diane. You explained these in an easy to understand manner. I appreciate it.

  2. Thanks, Sue.

    And I'm sorry I had to leave you 'dangling' sometimes. Thanks for being such a sport.

    Occasionally, I plan to post more grammar lessons. They are good reminders to keep my writing on track too.

    Thanks for stopping by.