A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that specifies the meaning of another word in a sentence. It offers details that make a sentence more descriptive and engaging. For example, in a ‘green dress’, the adjective ‘green’ is a modifier describing the noun ‘dress’. In ‘she spoke quietly, the adverb ‘quietly’ is a modifier of the verb ‘spoke’.
A modifier is used correctly in a sentence when it describes, defines, or qualifies its intended subject. On the other hand, if the word the modifier must describe, define, or qualify is missing from the sentence, then the modifier is left dangling. The resulting dangling modifier creates confusion about the meaning of the sentence.
What is an example of a dangling modifier?
Read the sentence below and identify the dangling modifier:
It isn’t clear who ate at Lionel’s Pizza Palace. The modifier ‘having eaten at Lionel’s Pizza Palace’ is left dangling.
2. Having eaten at Lionel’s Pizza Palace, I think the restaurant will be a hit among the locals.
It is now clear who ate at Lionel’s Pizza Palace. In the sentence, ‘I think’ is the phrase receiving the modifier.
|Laughing loudly, the movie was over.||Laughing loudly, the movie|
Types of dangling modifiers
Participle phrases as dangling modifiers
In a participle phrase, the noun/pronoun is the recipient of the action in the phrase. The modifier should connect clearly to the noun/pronoun. When the noun/pronoun acting as the subject in the sentence is missing, the sentence doesn’t make sense.
Grappling his gun, the enemy could not be sighted.
Grappling his gun, the cowboy could not sight the enemy.
Adjective phrases as dangling modifiers
An adjective phrase is a group of words in which an adjective describing a noun/pronoun appears first. Adjectives are commonly used as modifiers, but when the nouns/pronouns they’re supposed to modify are missing, dangling modifiers occur.
Gratified, the students received congratulations for their passing grades.
Gratified by the students’ passing grades, the teacher congratulated them.
The teacher was gratified by the students’ passing grades and congratulated them.
|Dangling modifier||A dangling modifier “dangles” because the word or words it is supposed to describe are not in the sentence.|
How to fix a dangling modifier
The good news is that it’s easy to recognize a dangling modifier in a sentence. Follow these steps to determine if a sentence has a dangling modifier:
- Note the modifier phrase appearing before the main clause
- See what the modifier phrase modifies
- Check if the modified noun phrase is correct
Having eaten a full meal, it was difficult to stay awake and work.
Spotted a dangling modifier? Now let’s fix it.
1. Modify the main clause
In the example, the subject of the modifier phrase isn’t clear. Place the subject immediately after the modifier phrase to solve the issue.
Correction: Having eaten a full meal, I found it difficult to stay awake and work.
2. Change the modifier phrase
The other option is to add a word to the introductory clause and let the main clause remain the same.
Correction: As I had eaten a full meal, it was difficult to stay awake and work.
3. Revise the sentence
Yet another fix is to move the introductory clause to another place in the sentence.
Correction: I found it difficult to stay awake and work because I had eaten a full meal.
Dangling vs misplaced modifier
A misplaced modifier occurs when the modifier appears too far from the phrase or word it intends to modify.
I saw hundreds of fireflies, looking out the window.
The modifier ‘looking out the window’ dangles too far from the subject ‘I’ it must modify. It is linking more closely to ‘hundreds of fireflies’, causing confusion about who is looking out the window.
Looking out the window, I saw hundreds of fireflies.
I saw hundreds of fireflies as I looked out the window.
Elegant and smooth, the gymnast’s movements wowed us.
Exercise on incorrect modifiers
- Entering the tunnel, the darkness enveloped her.
- The lawn mower finally worked by replacing the engine.
- After breaking his leg, his presentation could not be made in the office.
- Sleeping in the tent, the mosquitoes bit him on his hands and feet.
- Half baked, she removed the chicken from the oven.
- While waiting for the bell to ring, the blue bird on the window caught his attention.
- To get better prices, more product comparisons were made.
- The police chased the zombies in the squad car.
- Stuck to the wall, George read the fliers at the bar.
- Ravenous, the box of cookies was devoured.
More on sentence structure:
When does a dangling modifier appear?
Dangling modifiers occur when the subject in an introductory phrase isn’t clearly stated.
How do I correct a dangling modifier?
Dangling modifiers are corrected by introducing the subject right after the modifier or including it in a modifier phrase.
Inside this article
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- Abstract Noun
- Accusative Case
- Active Sentence
- Adjective Clause
- Adjective Phrase
- Adverbial Clause
- Appositive Phrase
- Compound Adjective
- Complex Sentence
- Compound Words
- Compound Predicate
- Common Noun
- Comparative Adjective
- Comparative and Superlative
- Compound Noun
- Compound Subject
- Compound Sentence
- Copular Verb
- Collective Noun
- Concrete Noun
- Conditional Sentence
- Comma Splice
- Correlative Conjunction
- Coordinating Conjunction
- Coordinate Adjective
- Cumulative Adjective
- Dative Case
- Declarative Sentence
- Declarative Statement
- Direct Object Pronoun
- Direct Object
- Dangling Modifier
- Demonstrative Pronoun
- Demonstrative Adjective
- Direct Characterization
- Definite Article
- False Dilemma Fallacy
- Future Perfect Progressive
- Future Simple
- Future Perfect Continuous
- Future Perfect
- First Conditional
- Irregular Adjective
- Irregular Verb
- Imperative Sentence
- Indefinite Article
- Intransitive Verb
- Introductory Phrase
- Indefinite Pronoun
- Indirect Characterization
- Interrogative Sentence
- Intensive Pronoun
- Inanimate Object
- Indefinite Tense
- Infinitive Phrase
- Indicative Mood
- Prepositional Phrase
- Past Simple Tense
- Past Continuous Tense
- Past Perfect Tense
- Past Progressive Tense
- Present Simple Tense
- Present Perfect Tense
- Personal Pronoun
- Persuasive Writing
- Parallel Structure
- Phrasal Verb
- Predicate Adjective
- Predicate Nominative
- Phonetic Language
- Plural Noun
- Punctuation Marks
- Preposition of Place
- Parts of Speech
- Possessive Adjective
- Possessive Determiner
- Possessive Case
- Possessive Noun
- Proper Adjective
- Proper Noun
- Present Participle
- Subordinating Conjunction
- Simple Future Tense
- Stative Verb
- Subject Complement
- Subject of a Sentence
- Sentence Variety
- Second Conditional
- Superlative Adjective
- Slash Symbol