Dave’s WW of EU: Dangling Modifiers

This is one of those ones that you can use to impress other people at a party (or not).

A dangling modifier is a phrase or clause where the doer of the action is not clearly indicated. For example: “Having gone to the store, Jill turned on the TV.” The first part is the dangling modifier, and this is actually a very common problem in writing.

Personal opinion here, but I think this problem crops up because the writer very clearly understands who they are talking about and therefore sees no need to clarify. There is also the possibility that the writer might assume the reader should be able to figure it out. In our first sentence, most readers would assume that Jill was the person who went to the store, but you truly can’t know that. For example, it makes just as much since to say “After Randall went to the store, Jill turned on the TV.” You just can’t assume that the reader will understand.

Identifying the Dangling Modifier

I find one of the better ways to find dangling modifiers is to not do it in the first place. It’s true. But if you haven’t quite nailed that part of grammar down, it helps to take each phrase and clause on their own and ask if the doer is identified. Using our example, you would take that first part of the sentence and ask if the person who went to store was known. In this case, the answer is no. So identify that person.

Fixing Your Dangling Modifier

This one is easy. To fix the dangling modifier, attach it to something. Identify the doer. That’s it. Yes, it does mean that you’ll probably have to rewrite the sentence a touch, but isn’t clarity worth it? And to be honest, the sentence style that leads to dangling modifiers really isn’t the best way to write anyway because it hides the main subject and verb of the sentence deeper into the sentence. But that’s a topic for another day.

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