A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that clarifies or describes another word, phrase, or clause. Sometimes writers use modifiers incorrectly, leading to strange and unintentionally humorous sentences. The two common types of modifier errors are called misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers. If either of these errors occurs, readers can no longer read smoothly. Instead, they become stumped trying to figure outwhatthe writer meant to say. A writer’s goal must always be to communicate clearly and to avoid distracting the reader with strange sentences or awkward sentence constructions. The good news is that these errors can be easily overcome.
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.
Incorrect: She wore a bicycle helmet on her headthat was too large.
Correct: She wore a bicycle helmetthat was too largeon her head.
Notice in the incorrect sentence it sounds as if her head were too large! Of course, the writer is referring to the helmet, not to the person’s head. The corrected version of the sentence clarifies the writer’s meaning.
Look at the following two examples:
Incorrect: They bought a kitten for my brotherthey call Shadow.
Correct: They bought a kittenthey call Shadowfor my brother.
In the incorrect sentence, it seems that the brother’s name isShadow. That’s because the modifier is too far from the word it modifies, which iskitten.
Incorrect: The patient was referred to the physicianwith stomach pains.
Correct: The patientwith stomach painswas referred to the physician.
The incorrect sentence reads as if it were the physician who has stomach pains! What the writer means is that the patient has stomach pains.
Simple modifiers likeonly,almost,just,nearly, andbarelyoften get used incorrectly because writers often stick them in the wrong place.
Confusing: Tyleralmostfound fifty cents under the sofa cushions.
Revised: Tyler foundalmostfifty cents under the sofa cushions.
How do youalmostfind something? Either you find it or you do not. The revisedsentence is much clearer.
On a separate sheet of paper, 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.
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.
Incorrect:Riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.
Correct: As Jane wasriding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.
In the incorrect sentence,riding in the sports caris dangling. The reader is left wondering who is riding in the sports car. The writer must tell the reader!
Incorrect:Walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.
Correct: As Jonas waswalking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.
Correct: The trees looked like spooky aliens as Jonas waswalking home at night.
In the incorrect sentencewalking home at nightis dangling. Who is walking home at night? Jonas. Note that there are two different ways the dangling modifier can be corrected.
Incorrect: To win the spelling bee, Luis and Gerard should join our team.
Correct: If we want to win the spelling bee this year, Luis and Gerard should join our team.
In the incorrect sentence,to win the spelling beeis dangling. Who wants to win the spelling bee? We do!
The following three steps will help you quickly spot a dangling modifier:
Look for an–ingmodifier at the beginning of your sentence or another modifying phrase:
Painting for three hours at night,the kitchen was finally finished by Maggie. (Paintingis the–ingmodifier.)
Underline the first noun that follows it:
Painting for three hours at night,the kitchen was finally finished by Maggie.
Make sure the modifier and noun go together logically. If they do not, it is very likely you have a dangling modifier.
After identifying the dangling modifier, rewrite the sentence.
Painting for three hours at night, Maggiefinally finished the kitchen.
Rewrite the following the sentences onto your own sheet of paper 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.
Rewrite the following paragraph correcting all 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.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Misplaced and dangling modifiers make sentences difficult to understand.
Misplaced and dangling modifiers distract the reader.
There are several effective ways to identify and correct misplaced and dangling modifiers.
See how creative and humorous you can get by writing ten sentences with misplaced and dangling modifiers. This is a deceptively simple task, but rise to the challenge. Your writing will be stronger for it. Exchange papers with a classmate, and rewrite your classmate’s sentences to correct any misplaced modifiers.