Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

5.3: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

  • Page ID
    70194
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Misplaced Modifiers

    When a participial phrase, prepositional phrase, or other modifying unit is not placed next to the noun it describes, the resulting error is called a misplaced modifier. Consider these examples:

    • Incorrect: Turning on the kitchen light, the woman surprised the thief in her nightgown.

    Correct: Turning on the kitchen light, the woman in her nightgown surprised the thief.

    • Incorrect: They bought a kitten for my brother called Shadow.

    Correct: They bought a kitten called Shadow for my brother.

    • Incorrect: The patient was referred to the physician with stomach pains.

    Correct: The patient with stomach pains was referred to the physician.

    Tip

    Simple modifiers like only, almost, just, nearly, and barely often get used incorrectly because writers often put them in the wrong place.

    Confusing: Tyler almost found fifty cents under the sofa cushions.

    Repaired: Tyler found almost fifty cents under the sofa cushions.

    How do you almost find something? Either you find it or you do not. The repaired sentence is much clearer.

    Exercise

    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.
    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 (or simply a dangler) 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, then the modifier is said to dangle.

    Incorrect: Riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by.

    Correct: As Jane was riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by.

    In the incorrect sentence, riding in the sports car is 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 was walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

    Correct: The trees looked like spooky aliens as Jonas was walking home at night.

    In the incorrect sentence walking home at night is 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, Luis and Gerard should join our team.

    In the incorrect sentence, to win the spelling bee is dangling. Who wants to win the spelling bee? We do.

    Tip

    Following these steps will help you correct a dangling modifier:

    Look for a modifying phrase at the beginning of your sentence and underline the noun that immediately follows it. The example below opens with a participial phrase, highlighted in yellow:

    Example: Painting for three hours at night, the kitchen was finally finished.

    If the modifying phrase does not describe the underlined noun, then you have a dangler. In this example, the kitchen is the room that was painted, but who did the painting? A noun referring to that person should immediately follow the participial phrase:

    Correction: Painting for three hours at night, Maggie finally finished the kitchen.

    Since Maggie did the painting, her name follows the participial phrase.

    Exercise

    1. Rewrite the following the 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.
    2. Rewrite the following paragraph correcting all the misplaced and dangling modifiers:
      1. 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.

    Key Takeaways

    • 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.

    Contributors and Attributions


    5.3: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?