Structure guides


Essay Writing Tips: Dangling Modifiers

What in the world! Dangling? I don't even want to guess at what is dangling or where. If you need to know, though, so you can avoid an embarrassing situation, read on.

Dangling modifiers are not so much grammatical mistakes as they are logical ones. They happen when a writer is speaking without much forethought, then gets backed into a corner. Some modifier gets assigned to a noun that was not intended.

Further, dangling modifiers ultimately fail in communication, not just logic. There are many funny sentences created by dangling modifiers and their mistakes in logic, but the most dangerous danglers are those that are dead serious. Trying to identify these can drive you mad.

Here is an example:

Having come home from work, dinner was started.

We know dinner was started, but we do not know who came home from work. Did dinner come home from work? That is what is being said, as ridiculous as it sounds. Even if you have a larger context talking about some person, the dinner still came home from work. We would have to name the person for the sentence to be corrected:

Having come home from work, Bill started dinner.

Another example:

Having been written, the girl turned in her essay.

What was written, the girl or the essay?

Correct: The essay, having been written, was turned in by the girl.

How can you identify dangling modifiers?

  1. Locate modifying phrases within sentences.
  2. Find the very next noun in the sentence.
  3. That is the logical noun for the modifier, regardless of what you intended.
  4. Even if this makes sense logically, it might not communicate what you wanted.

Remember that modifiers should stick as close as possible to the nouns that they are modifying. That is one way to reduce the possibility of creating confusion.

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