Grammar Dangling Phrases and Clauses |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Dangling Phrases and Clauses

When phrases or clauses are misplaced in a sentence, such that they don’t agree with the subject, sometimes funny or even embarrassing meanings and images will result. Danglers are difficult for us to spot when we write them because we can’t always see that what we have written is not what we meant to express.

Example: While walking across the street, the bus hit her.
Did the bus really walk across the street?

While she was walking across the street, the bus hit her. OR
The bus hit her while she was walking across the street.

Example: I have some pound cake that Mollie baked in my lunch bag.
Did Mollie actually bake the pound cake in my lunch bag?

Correction: In my lunch bag, I have some pound cake that Mollie baked.

Now that you are alerted to danglers, perhaps you will be able to appreciate some of the bloopers below (not all of which contain danglers) even more. Thank you to Hu O. for sending these.

  • The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
  • The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks on the Water.” The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”
  • Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
  • Don’t let worry kill you off–let the Church help.
  • Miss Charlene Mason sang “I Will Not Pass This Way Again” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
  • Irving B. and Jessie C. were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
  • At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.
  • Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

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.

17 responses to “Dangling Phrases and Clauses”

  1. Buddy says:

    The second example is wrote, “I have some pound cake that Mollie baked in my lunch bag.” The object “pound cake” is adequately identified and thus does not require the adjective clause “Mollie baked,” so should not the aforementioned sentence be wrote, “I have some pound cake, which Mollie baked, in my lunch bag”?

    • says:

      The example that you cited is an ambiguous sentence. The point of the blog Dangling Phrases and Clauses is to alert our readers to misplaced phrases and clauses that change the meaning of the sentence. In your original example, it sounds as if Mollie baked the cake in the lunch bag. Your rewrite solves the problem.

  2. Buddy says:

    Again, “Mollie baked” seems additional and thus nonessential; therefore, why is the sentence not wrote, “In my lunch bag, I have some pound cake, which Mollie baked”?

    • says:

      Our blog That vs. Which addresses this issue in more detail. Rule 3 in the blog states, “That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.” It goes on to note that “Essential clauses do not have commas surrounding them while nonessential clauses are surrounded by commas.” In some cases, it is up to the author of the sentence to determine whether the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. In our example sentence, “In my lunch bag, I have some pound cake that Mollie baked,” we have determined that the clause that Mollie baked is essential to the meaning of my sentence because we want people to know Mollie baked it–not someone else, not a bakery. Therefore, we used the word that and we did not use a comma. Since you used the word which and added the comma, you are implying that the fact that Mollie baked the pound cake is not essential to the meaning of your sentence.

      Also, the word wrote in your question should be written.

    • simon lunn says:

      Is buddy an American fella?

      It’s customary to use ‘wrote’ rather than ‘written’.

      • Wabbit babbit says:

        It’s “Mollie baked some of the pound cake in my lunch bag.”

        • says:

          This is another example of an ambiguous sentence that sounds as if Mollie baked the cake in the lunch bag.

  3. Andy M. says:

    Rule 7

    Place modifiers near the words they modify.

    I have some pound cake Mollie baked in my lunch bag.

    In my lunch bag, I have some pound cake that Mollie baked.

    Is the point of this sentence that the cake was made by Mollie and nobody else, or should it have been

    “In my lunch bag, I have some pound cake which Mollie baked.”?

    Or did I get that wrong?

    • says:

      The point of the incorrect sentence is that it reads as though Mollie somehow used a lunch bag in which to bake a cake.

  4. Carol Kent says:

    Here’s one of my favorites from my 8th grade students (we were studying adverbs):
    “Walking briskly down the street, an apple fell from the tree.”

  5. Kenneth muir says:

    “Roger is driving home, he’s lost, it’s getting dark, and he is running out of petrol.”
    Please explain why this is not considered a comma splice.

    • says:

      The sentence is written as a series of four items with the connector and before the last independent clause. Omitting and would result in a comma splice (see Rules 3a and 3b of Commas). The four independent clauses could be recast as separate sentences, as a series of individual clauses using the present progressive tense (as below), or in other ways; it’s a matter of style.

      Roger is driving home, becoming lost, losing daylight, and running out of petrol.

  6. Elaine Lawson says:

    Why are all the negative comments about church activities?

    • says:

      We can all benefit from laughing at ourselves from time to time. They aren’t negative comments, but rather examples of everyday writings that intended to instruct but became humorous because of inadvertent dangling modifiers.

  7. Sandra M. says:

    This is the best laugh I’ve had all day! Thank you!

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