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Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers


We often use phrases to describe words within sentences, and we determine the meaning of our sentences by placing these descriptive phrases next to the words they point to or "modify." For example, the sentence, "I saw a boy running down the street," indicates that the "boy" was doing the running. However, if we wrote, "Running down the street, I saw the boy," we would be suggesting to readers that "I" was doing the running.

Misplaced Modifiers

Sometimes we become careless and place descriptive phrases far away from the words they modify, making our sentences unclear or inaccurate. We call these phrases misplaced modifiers. For example, in "I was told that I had been awarded the scholarship by my professor," does the underlined phrase mean that the professor did the telling or the awarding? If the professor did the telling, we could make the meaning of this sentence clearer by repositioning the phrase: "I was told by my professor that I had been awarded the scholarship."

Dangling Modifiers

Other times we write descriptive phrases that point to or modify words that are not clearly stated in our sentences, making our sentences illogical. We call these phrases dangling modifiers. For example, in "Walking to college on a subzero morning, my left ear became frozen," the underlined phrase modifies "my left ear." This doesn't make sense; some person must have been doing the walking. We can clarify the sentence by putting a logical word after the phrase: for example, "Walking to college on a subzero morning, I froze my left ear." Or, we can change the phrase so that it has a logical subject and verb in it: "When I was walking to college on a subzero morning, my left ear became frozen."

The following table includes sentences with dangling and misplaced modifiers, as well as a possible revision for each and an explanation of why the revision is necessary.

Examples of Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers Revisions
On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon, watched by nearly a fifth of the world's population. Watched by nearly a fifth of the world's population, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.

(The world was not watching the moon; the world was watching the astronauts.)

After seeing the benefits of reduced employee turnover, absenteeism, and lateness, onsite daycare is being provided more frequently as a perk for working parents. After seeing the benefits of reduced employee turnover, absenteeism, and lateness, more and more companies are providing onsite daycare as a perk for working parents.

(Onsite daycare is not seeing the benefits of reduced turnover, absenteeism, and lateness; companies are seeing these benefits as a result of onsite daycare.)

An author who did not receive much attention until after her death, readers of all ages enjoy Emily Dickinson's poetry today.

or

Readers of all ages enjoy Emily Dickinson's poetry today, an author who did not receive much attention until after her death.

Today, readers of all ages enjoy the poetry of Emily Dickinson, an author who did not receive much attention until after her death.

(The phrase, an author who did not receive much attention until after her death, should modify Emily Dickinson rather than readers or Emily Dickinson's poetry.)

Cost-efficient and convenient, many of today's corporate employees are being trained through computer-assisted instruction. Cost-efficient and convenient, computer-assisted instruction is being used by many companies to train employees.

(The descriptive words, cost-efficient and convenient, modify computer-assisted instruction rather than today's corporate employees.)

Having submitted the conference registration form after the deadline, special permission by the chairperson was needed before she could give her presentation. Having submitted the conference registration form after the deadline, Susan needed special permission from the chairperson before she could give her presentation.

(The example doesn't make sense as it is written. Someone must have submitted the form late. According to the revision, Susan submitted the form late.)

When purchasing a cellular phone, the wide variety of calling plans and features overwhelms many people. When purchasing a cellular phone, many people become overwhelmed by the wide variety of calling plans and features.

(The calling plans and features aren't purchasing cellular phones. People purchase cellular phones.)

New York Stock Exchange members shout out opening bids and offers, acting on behalf of institutions and individual investors. Acting on behalf of institutions and individual investors, New York Stock Exchange members shout out opening bids and offers.

(Members of the New York Stock Exchange--rather than opening bids and offers-- act on behalf of institutions and investors.


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LEO: Literacy Education Online

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Last update: 18 August 2000

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