Grammar What Are Dangling Modifiers? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

What Are Dangling Modifiers?

You may have heard the term dangling modifier before. Students and adults alike will come across it at some point. If you are still familiar with what a dangling modifier is and why it confuses communication, this discussion will be a helpful review.

If you’re not as knowledgeable about dangling modifiers, we’ll clarify that subject for you so you can avoid them in your writing.

What Is a Dangling Modifier?

A modifier is a part of a sentence that describes another part:

Rarely one to notice details, Earl didn’t hear the loose change slipping from his pockets into the couch.

In this instance, rarely one to notice details is a modifier of Earl; it gives us more information about him.

Now consider this sentence:

Rarely one to notice details, the loose change was slipping from Earl’s pockets into the couch.

If we think over the sentence, we may understand what it’s saying, but it is a muddled, ungrammatical construction. The main reason is that the modifier, rarely one to notice details, is now dangling. It dangles because it modifies the loose change instead of Earl, and we can deduce that the loose change would not be the agent of rarely noticing details.

How to Spot and Fix a Dangling Modifier

Now that you know what a dangling modifier is, you can more readily spot one. A dangling modifier will often give itself away by seeming misplaced or describing the wrong element in a sentence.

A reinforcing question can be “Would this sentence work on its own if someone didn’t know what I was writing about?” If the answer is no, then you may well have an issue with a dangling modifier.

Let’s look at some more examples, and then we will adjust them:

Shouting loudly, the guest of honor was surprised.

Looking into the fog, there was no sight.

Having tripped on the stairs, it was difficult to answer the door.

Each of these dangling modifiers can be quickly corrected with words that clearly identify the subject who is performing an action or being referenced by the modifier. In practice, this simply means providing the information needed to make the sentence precise.

Let’s return to and correct our examples by connecting the modifiers with clear subjects. We’ll also add any other details for greater clarity:

Shouting loudly, the partygoers surprised the guest of honor.

Looking into the fog, James could barely see.

Having tripped on the stairs, Jody found it difficult to answer the door.

As you can see, inserting a clear subject and then revising the rest of the sentence to support the information being expressed resolves the confusion caused by the original dangling modifiers.

We Make It Easy to Use Better Grammar

English grammar can seem confusing at times. Once you get more familiar with the concepts and finer points, however, you’ll find it easier to become a stronger writer and communicator in the language. Visit us again soon for more useful tips and discussions!

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *