Don't Let Their Modifiers Dangle in Polite Society!
suspect an -ing word
of dangling if it's near the front of a sentence; consider
it guilty until proved innocent." --Patricia
Conventionally, a participial
phrase, prepositional phrase, infinitive phrase, or an
phrase modifies the nearest word in the same sentence.
The same is true for adjectival or adverbial phrases.
If that noun appears in an earlier sentence, or doesn't
appear at all in the paper, the reader will become confused.
This situation is called a dangling modifier.
In the case of adverbs, adverbs should modify the nearest
verb or the subsequent adverb or adjective in the same sentence.
If not, it also is a dangling modifier.
of Dangling Modifiers:
I was late for the school bus again.
Running for the bus, my book fell in the mud.
(Was the book running for the school bus? It's
the only nearby noun beside mud.)
Deciding to join the navy, the recruiter enthusiastically pumped Joe's hand.
(Was the recruiter deciding to join
the navy? The only other option is Joe's
Upon entering the doctor's office, a skeleton caught my attention.
(Was the skeleton entering
the doctor's office? The only other option is my
Any short descriptive phrase in
a sentence conventionally modifies the closest
noun in that sentence. Your writing will confuse the
that phrase is
positioned unclearly--even if the right word does appear in the
This is a subtype of the dangling modifier called a misplaced
of Confusing Misplaced Modifiers:
She claimed yesterday she saw a UFO.
(Did she see the UFO yesterday? Or did she make
the claim yesterday? To be
clear, we must rewrite the sentence.)
assembly line workers were told they had been fired
by the personnel director.
(Did the personnel director tell the workers they had been fired? Or was
he the one who actually fired them, and somebody else told them? It's not
at all clear.)
Groucho Marx frequently used this technique for many
of his jokes:
other day, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he
got in my pajamas, I'll never
Thus, if a phrase is describing, renaming, or elaborating
upon a specific word, good writers do two things. (1) They
place this modifier immediately beside the word it modifies.
(2) They make sure the word being modified actually appears
in the sentence! The most dangerous misplaced one-word
modifiers are these examples: almost, even, hardly,
just, merely, nearly, only, and simply. Usually present participles
(-ing words that describe a noun) are the culprit in dangling
These Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers:
1. I was late for the school bus again. Running for the
bus, my book fell in the mud.
Deciding to join the navy, the recruiter enthusiastically
pumped Joe's hand.
Upon entering the doctor's office, a skeleton caught
4. Explain the difference between
these two uses of the modifier nearly.
Which one indicates the speaker actually earned some
money--say $2999 dollars--but didn't quite earn $3,000?
Which one indicates he tried to earn some money and
came close, but actually
earn any at all?
I nearly earned $3,000.
I earned nearly $3,000.
5. Explain the difference between these two uses of the
modifier only. Which one conveys the ideas that lasers
are devices limited to mere destruction, but might leave
other harmful matter in the surrounding tissue intact?
Which one indicates they are precise instruments that specifically
target harmful tissue and thus leave beneficial surrounding
Lasers only destroy the target
cancer cells; they leave the surrounding cells intact.
Lasers destroy only the target cancer cells; they leave
the surrounding cells intact.
Dangling Modifier Dementia!
All these sentences have at least
one dangling modifier. Identify them and fix them.
1. To please the neighbors, some fireworks
were set off a
Though only sixteen years old, the college accepted
Climbing up the ladder carefully, the frightened cat
was brought down from the tree.
After a quick change into my hospital gown, the nurse
told me to relax.
Before replacing any wall outlet, the electricity should
be turned off.
Vegetables are an important part of your culinary repertoire.
To be cooked well, you must steam vegetables.
As a long sturdy rod, I know the Bassmaster 2000 is
the best fishing
available for fly-fishing.
I have many fond memories of my Aunt Judy. While still
a boy, my Aunt
Judy and I went
to the Dallas Cup Rodeo. For
so rustic, the event was quite exciting.
Dentists provide many useful tips for your health.
your teeth daily, gum disease
Before engaging in strenuous aerobic exercise, warm-up
Misplaced Modifier Madness!
Be careful! Some of the following
sentences may have nothing wrong with them!
11. Having laid an egg weighing two pounds, the farmer proudly displayed his
favorite ostrich before the photographers.
Stung by wasps, bees, or other such insects, powerful
toxins can bring on allergic
reactions so severe that people might die. Being
aware of the danger is the
first step to preventing such a death.
13. The veterinarian never returned
our frantic phone calls. Having given birth to six
kittens, my girlfriend anxiously watched
her exhausted cat, Whiskers.
I was uncertain if this behavior was normal.
Giving into my desires during the honeymoon, I ran
out and purchased eight bags of barbeque pork rinds.
Ugly, warty creatures with protruding noses and bat-like
wings, architecture students find gargoyles endlessly
as expressions of the grotesque.
There are many pictures of comedians hanging on the
walls at Gavin's Restaurant. These images are of people
who have performed there. He is
for his decorations.
When following a strict diet--one high in protein and
low in carbohydrates-- weight loss programs can
make a difference
quality of life. Given that doctors
acknowledge this fact, it is surprising more people do not
try Dr. Atkins' diet plan.
The robber was described as a six foot-tall man with
brown hair and blue eyes and a mustache weighing 150
Disgusted with his own dangling modifiers, the teacher
reviewed his handouts and felt ill.
20. The time had come to leave at last.
Deciding to pack up for college, my dog stared sadly
at me as I bustled
Inhaling the fumes from paint thinner, statistics show
that significant brain damage can occur.
After several years of inhaling fumes from paint thinner,
brain damage is often one
of the results.
After being bitten by seven dogs, the mailman decided
to carry industrial strength
him during his
Having applied a tourniquet, the bleeding finally stopped.
25.The policemen finally stopped
the criminal using pepper spray and handcuffs.
David struck down Goliath fighting against a giant.
Treated with penicillin, a severe allergic reaction
patient died at 10:34
With a cold, clear penetrating look, the poker game
cold as Slim Pickens
Medical research offers the modern world many miracles.
nutrient, serums can
be prepared to
inoculate people against polio.
Before making this discovery, scientists
had no way to treat
Famous throughout the world for his shocking makeup,
of our church newspaper
chose to interview
In awe, circling the coldest regions of outer
space in an endless
dance, the astronomers
Clutching a flensing knife and dreaming
of human liver, the movie critic
saw the familiar cannibal known
as Hannibal Lector
once more in the sequel. This
madman first appeared in books
by Thomas Harrison.
Surprising to many fans, Anthony
Hopkins was not the first actor
to portray the psychotic
Observing safe-sex practices or abstinence,
of contracting a disease
Because John knew only English, he
read a menu
him by his
Thundering loudly over the lagoon and
of liters of
I saw a
Having turned to the
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