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13.12: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

  • Page ID
    120108
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    Audio Version (March 2022):

    What is a modifier?

    A modifier is a word or phrase that describes another word or phrase. If the modifier is not right next to the word or phrase it describes, readers may not be able to tell what it is doing in the sentence. The two common types of modifier errors are called misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers.

    Misplaced modifiers

    A misplaced modifier is a modifier that is placed too far from the word or words it modifies. Misplaced modifiers make the sentence awkward and sometimes unintentionally humorous.

    Misplaced modifying phrases

    Often a modifier is a whole phrase or clause that expresses an idea about another part of the sentence.

    Examples of misplaced modifiers
    Sample sentence with the modifier in bold Explanation
    An "X" on a red backgroundShe wore a bicycle helmet on her head that was too large.

    Incorrect: This version makes it sound as if her head was too large. Of course, the writer is referring to the helmet, not to the person’s head.

    Check mark in greenShe wore a bicycle helmet that was too large on her head.

    Correct: This version places the modifier that was too large next to the noun it modifies, helmet.

    An "X" on a red backgroundThey bought a kitten for my brother they call Shadow.

    Incorrect: This version suggests that the brother’s name is Shadow. That’s because the modifier they call Shadow is too far from the word it modifies, kitten.

    Check mark in greenThey bought a kitten they call Shadow for my brother.

    Correct: Now the modifier they call Shadow comes right after the noun it modifies, kitten.

    An "X" on a red backgroundThe patient was referred to the nurse practitioner with stomach pains.

    Incorrect: The modifier with stomach pains comes right after nurse practitioner, so the sentence reads as if it is the nurse practitioner who has stomach pains. 

    Check mark in greenThe patient with stomach pains was referred to the nurse practitioner.

    Correct: Now the modifier with stomach pains comes right after the patient, so it is clear who is suffering.

    Misplaced simple modifiers

    A modifier can also be a single word. Simple modifiers like only, almost, just, nearly, and barely often get used incorrectly. Placing them in the wrong spot may not always sound wrong, but it can still confuse readers.

    An example of a simple modifier
    Sample sentence with the modifier in bold Explanation
    An "X" on a red backgroundConfusing sentence: Tyler almost found fifty cents under the sofa cushions, so he put it in the piggy bank.

    Incorrect: The modifier almost comes right before find, so it seems to suggest that Tyler didn't quite find the money.  However, if he hadn't found it, he would not have been able to put it in the bank. Almost is meant to refer to the quantity of money, not to the finding of the money.

    Check mark in greenClearer version: Tyler found almost fifty cents under the sofa cushions, so he put it in the piggy bank.

    Correct: In this version, the modifier almost comes right before the noun phrase it modifies, fifty cents​​​​​​.

     

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Rewrite the following sentences to correct the misplaced modifiers.

    1. The young lady was walking the dog on the telephone.
    2. I heard that there was a robbery on the evening news.
    3. Uncle Louie bought a running stroller for the baby that he called “Speed Racer.”
    4. Rolling down the mountain, the explorer stopped the boulder with his powerful foot.
    5. We are looking for a babysitter for our precious six-year-old who doesn’t drink or smoke and owns a car.
    6. The teacher served cookies to the children wrapped in aluminum foil.
    7. The mysterious woman walked toward the car holding an umbrella.
    8. We returned the wine to the waiter that was sour.
    9. Charlie spotted a stray puppy driving home from work.
    10. I ate nothing but a cold bowl of noodles for dinner.

    Dangling modifiers

    A dangling modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes something that has been left out of the sentence. When there is nothing that the word, phrase, or clause can modify, the modifier is said to dangle.

    Examples of dangling modifiers
    Sample sentence with the modifier in bold Explanation
    An "X" on a red backgroundRiding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.

    Incorrect: The phrase riding in the sports car is dangling. The reader is left wondering who is riding in the sports car.

    Check mark in greenAs João was riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.

    Correct: Now the subject, João, comes right before the verb was riding.

    An "X" on a red backgroundWalking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

    Incorrect: The modifier walking home at night is dangling. Who is walking home at night? Not the trees.

    Check mark in greenWalking home at night, Jonas thought the trees looked like spooky aliens. Correct: The modifier walking home at night is directly followed by the subject, the person who is walking home, Jonas.
    Check mark in greenAs Jonas was walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

    Correct: In this version, the modifier walking home at night is turned into a complete clause with subject Jonas and verb was walking. Note that there can be multiple ways to fix a dangling modifier.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Rewrite the following sentences to correct the dangling modifiers.

    1. Bent over backward, the posture was very challenging.
    2. Making discoveries about new creatures, this is an interesting time to be a biologist.
    3. Walking in the dark, the picture fell off the wall.
    4. Playing a guitar in the bedroom, the cat was seen under the bed.
    5. Packing for a trip, a cockroach scurried down the hallway.
    6. While looking in the mirror, the towel swayed in the breeze.
    7. While driving to the veterinarian’s office, the dog nervously whined.
    8. The priceless painting drew large crowds when walking into the museum.
    9. Piled up next to the bookshelf, I chose a romance novel.
    10. Chewing furiously, the gum fell out of my mouth.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    Rewrite the following paragraph to correct the misplaced and dangling modifiers.

    I bought a fresh loaf of bread for my sandwich shopping in the grocery store. Wanting to make a delicious sandwich, the mayonnaise was thickly spread. Placing the cold cuts on the bread, the lettuce was placed on top. I cut the sandwich in half with a knife turning on the radio. Biting into the sandwich, my favorite song blared loudly in my ears. Humming and chewing, my sandwich went down smoothly. Smiling, my sandwich will be made again, but next time I will add cheese.

    Attributions 

    Adapted by Anna Mills from Writing for Successcreated by an author and publisher who prefer to remain anonymous, adapted and presented by the Saylor Foundation and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.


    13.12: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.