Grammar Tutorial: What are Dangling Modifiers?

Written by Nigina Dustova

Dangling modifiers occur when a modifier does not modify the subject of the main clause. Dangling modifiers usually occur at the beginnings of the sentences.  Sentences have to be rewritten to correct the dangling modifier.

Examples:
1) Incorrect: After a long search, the robber was caught.
Note: The robber was not looking for himself.

Correct: After the police made a long search, the robber was caught.

2) Incorrect: Singing all the way down the road, we were annoyed by the team who won.
Note: We were not singing when the other team won. Be careful to put the phrase or clause that describes nearest to the thing that is describing.

Correct: We were annoyed by the winning team’s singing all the way down the road.

3) Incorrect: Walking through the woods, the rabbits were jumping everywhere.

Note: The rabbits were not walking. Both clauses are self-sufficient because they both have a subject and a verb that act independently of one another.

Correct: As we were walking through the woods, the rabbits were jumping everywhere.

Notice that the problem with the dangling modifier occurs because it has no subject of its own. The subject of the main clause is usually taken to be the subject of the modifier. That creates some ridiculous images. E.g. Falling from the tree, the girl caught the apple. (In this case, the apple was falling from the tree, not the girl.)

Exercises:

Rewrite the constructions that modify the wrong word or seem illogical.

  1. Having escaped death by inches, the ship carried the men home.
  2. The dog that was damaged by the hurricane ran under the bridge.
  3. The boy fell down the street.
  4. Itching due to the poison ivy, the doctor gave the patient some ointment.
  5. Laughing loudly, the clowns put on quite a show.

Answers:

  1. Having escaped death by inches, the men were carried home by ship.
    Note: The ship didn’t escape death by inches, but the men.
  2. The dog ran under the bridge that was damaged by the hurricane.
    Note: In this case, the bridge was damaged by the hurricane, not the dog.
  3. The boy down the street fell down.
    Note: Which boy?
  4.  The doctor gave the patient, itching due to the poison ivy, some ointment.
    Note: Patient was itching, not the doctor who gave some ointment.
  5. As we were laughing loudly, the clowns put on quite a show.
    Note: The clowns were not laughing loudly in this sentence.
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