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Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

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Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

A misplaced modifier occurs when the modifier appears to describe the wrong word in the sentence.

A dangling modifier occurs when a modifier does not logically or grammatically describe anything in the sentence.

As a general rule, a modifier should be placed as closely as possible to the word it modifies. When a clause, phrase, or word is placed too far from the word it modifies, the sentence may fail to convey the intended meaning and might produce ambiguity or even amusement. When this occurs, the modifier is called "misplaced."

When the noun or pronoun to which a phrase or clause refers is in the wrong place or missing, an unattached—or dangling—modifier results. As with misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers result in confusion.


Word Misplaced:

To get to the ski slope we nearly drove five hours.

(Since the modifier "nearly" describes "five," not "drove," the sentence should read:

To get to the ski slope we drove nearly five hours.)

Phrase Misplaced:

Paul got a glimpse of the accident in his rearview mirror.

(Since we can assume logically that the accident did not occur in Paul's rearview mirror, the phrase "in his rearview mirror" modifies "got a glimpse of" and should be placed closer to it. The sentence should read:

In his rearview mirror, Paul got a glimpse of the accident.)

Clause Misplaced:

My sister purchased a dog for my brother that they call Rover.

(The clause "that they call Rover" describes the dog, not the brother. The sentence should read:

For my brother, my sister purchased a dog that they call Rover.)

Dangling Modifier:

While sailing off the coast, a great white whale was seen.

(The construction is "dangling" because the lack of a subject leaves the reader wondering who saw the whale. To correct the error, revise the sentence as follows:

While sailing off the coast, we saw a great white whale.)

Correcting Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Correct misplaced modifiers by placing the phrase or clause closer to the word it describes. In some instances, you can correct dangling modifiers by rewriting the sentence to add the missing word. In other cases, expand the verbal phrases into a clause.


Misplaced Modifier

The right belongs to every person of freedom of speech.

Modifier Correctly Placed

The right of freedom of speech belongs to every person.

Misplaced Modifier

We saved the balloons for the children that had been left on the table.

Modifier Correctly Placed

We saved the balloons that had been left on the table for the children.

Dangling Modifier

While reading the book, the birds on the railing caught my eye.

Modifier Corrected

While I was reading the book, the birds on the railing caught my eye.

Dangling Modifier

To understand the process, an up-to-date text is a must.

Modifier Corrected

For you to understand the process, you must have an up-to-date text.

Dangling Modifier

Being childless for so long, the baby was a welcome addition.

Modifier Corrected

Since they were childless for so long, the baby was a welcome addition.

Sample Usage

As mentioned above.

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