Dangling Modifiers: Confusing To Downright Silly

Dangling Modifier - ScaryI know, I know … I’ve heard all the jokes about dangling modifiers.

But when it comes to grammar, they are no laughing matter.

A dangling modifier is a phrase that either is in the wrong place or modifies the wrong thing. These misplaced or poorly worded phrases can create confusion, or they can totally change the meaning of what you intend to say.

Or they can sound darned silly.

Consider these examples:

Having finished eating dinner, the dishes were loaded into the dishwasher.
Problem: The dishes did not eat dinner; people ate dinner.
Better: Having finished eating dinner, we loaded the dishes into the dishwasher.

Without knowing her phone number, it was impossible to contact her.
Problem: Who didn’t know her number? It?
Better: Without knowing her phone number, I found it impossible to contact her.

At age 7, Josh’s father entered the Army.
Problem: No one’s father could enter the Army at age 7.
Better: When Josh was 7, his father entered the Army.

Buried in an old cedar chest, Kia found her cheerleading sweater.
Problem: Kia wasn’t buried in the cedar chest, her sweater was.
Better: Buried in an old cedar chest was the cheerleading sweater Kia had worn.
Better yet: Kia found her cheerleading sweater buried in an old cedar chest.

Walking home last night, the porch light was visible a block away.
Problem: The porch light was not walking home last night.
Better: As I walked home last night, I saw the porch light from a block away.

To avoid dangling modifiers, pay attention to the order of your words and to the doer of the action.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)