Mini-lesson

1.Dangling modifiers

A modifier is a word or phrase that modifies (or refers to) a nearby word or group of words. A mistake occurs when the nearby word or group of words is not stated directly, so the modifier is dangling or hanging without anything to connect it to.

There are different types of dangling modifiers:

Dangling participle

Chugging into the valley, the snowy Himalayas were visible. 

In this sentence, the participle phrase chugging into the valley is positioned next to the snowy Himalayas.  It seems that the Himalayas are chugging into the valley, which is obviously not the intended meaning, because chugging is the noise that a slow steam train makes.

Dangling infinitive


To find the fastest way home, the map was consulted.


In this sentence, it sounds as if the map wanted to find the fastest way home, because it is placed next to the modifier.

Dangling elliptical clause


At the age of ten, my grandfather took me skiing for the first time. 


Here, the modifier At the age of ten is placed next to my grandfather, which makes it appear that my grandfather was ten years old when he took me skiing.

How to avoid dangling modifiers

  • Create a word for the modifier to describe and position it next to the modifier. You may have to rewrite the other words as in these examples:

    Chugging into the valley, we saw the snowy Himalayas. 
    Chugging into the valley, the snowy Himalayas were visible. 


    To find the fastest way home, we consulted the map.     
    To find the fastest way home, the map was consulted. 

  • Change the participle into a clause, as in these examples:

    As we chugged into the valley, the snowy Himalayas were visible.  
    When I was ten years old, my grandfather took me skiing for the first time


2. Misplaced modifiers
A misplaced modifier occurs when there is a word in the sentence which is being modified, but which is positioned too far away from the modifier, so readers find it hard to understand what is being modified.

I caught a fish standing on the pier.
       

The modifier standing on the pier is in the wrong position; it is closer to fish than to I.

The correct version is:

Standing on the pier, I caught a fish.
   

One word modifiers like almost, nearly and often are sometimes misplaced:

I almost earned HK$500 for cleaning the windows.
    

This sounds as if I did not actually earn the money.  If the writer wants to say that he earned  nearly HK$500 for cleaning the windows,  the modifier should be placed near the word being modified, as below:

I earned almost HK500 for cleaning the windows.
  
Exercise 1 Identifying dangling and misplaced modifiers
Identify misplaced and dangling modifiers in the following passage by highlighting the word or words. Decide whether it is a dangling modifier (Yellow color) or a misplaced modifier (Red color).
Exercise 2 Dangling modifiers - Sentence rewriting
Rewrite the sentences to correct the dangling modifiers. Answers may vary and sample answers are provided.

1. Walking into the new house for the first time, the high ceilings gave the place a church-like quality.
 


Check
Your answer:

Suggested Answer:
When we walked/Walking into the house for the first time, we saw that the ceilings gave the place a church-like quality.
  
2. Shredding the papers, all my important documents were destroyed.
 


Check
Your answer:

Suggested Answer:
When I shredded/Shredding the papers, I destroyed all my important documents.
  
3. Opening the door of the oven, a burning smell filled the kitchen.
 


Check
Your answer:

Suggested Answer:
When I opened/Opening the door of the oven, I could smell burning in the kitchen.
  
4. While visiting Trafalgar Square, the pigeons were a charming attraction.
 


Check
Your answer:

Suggested Answer:
When she visited/While visiting Trafalgar Square, she found the pigeons a charming attraction.
  
5. Upon hearing his exam results, the news gave him an unexpected surge of joy.
 


Check
Your answer:

Suggested Answer:
When he heard/Upon hearing the news of his exam results, he was filled with an unexpected surge of joy.
  
6. Changing gear, the truck had difficulty getting up the steep hill.
 


Check
Your answer:

Suggested Answer:
When he changed gear/Changing gear, the driver had difficulty getting the truck up the hill.
  

Exercise 3 Identifying misplaced modifiers Sentence Rewriting
Rewrite the following sentences to correct the misplaced modifiers. You may have to rewrite the whole sentence. Answers will vary. A sample answer will be provided.

1.Tiffany almost drank a whole bottle of wine by herself.
 


Check
Your answer:

Sample Answer:
Tiffany drank almost a whole bottle of wine by herself.
  
2. Blaring loudly, I turned down the radio.
 


Check
Your answer:

Sample Answer:
I turned down the loudly blaring radio/the radio which was blaring loudly.
  
3. Speeding around the corner at 60 m.p.h., the old lady was knocked down by a van.
 


Check
Your answer:

Sample Answer:
The old lady was knocked down by a van (which was) speeding around the corner at 60 m.p.h.
  
4. Governments are already almost all banning the toxic pesticide.
 


Check
Your answer:

Sample Answer:
Almost all governments are already banning the toxic pesticide.
  
5. My mother nearly threw away all the old socks in my father’s drawers.
 


Check
Your answer:

Sample Answer:
My mother threw away nearly all the old socks in my father’s drawers.
  
6. John proposed to Chloe on top of the mountain with a diamond ring.
 


Check
Your answer:

Sample Answer:
With a diamond ring, John proposed to Chloe on top of the mountain.

OR:

John proposed to Chloe with a diamond ring on top of the mountain.
  

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