shayla sullivan

Those Dang Dangling Modifiers

Jenny watched the rain pour sadly.

Who is sad?  Jenny or the rain?

The barbershop only is open from Tuesday thru Saturday.

Is it only the barbershop that is open on those days, aside from other businesses, or is the barbershop open only on those days?

And watch below how the meaning is drastically different when the word “nearly” changes places.

Nearly all of the 20,000 children who had missed a year of school were excited to go back.

All of the nearly 20,000 children who had missed a year of school were excited to go back.

What exactly is a modifier?

A modifier is the word that functions solely to qualify or limit the understanding of another noun or clause on the sentence.  For clear writing, always make sure the modifier points directly to what it intends to point to by choosing the proper placement.

Modifiers are not a specific list of words.  They simply are the words (adjectives or adverbs) of a sentence that qualify that main noun, or the noun that is taking the action.

 In the first sentence about Jenny, sadly is the modifier. However, there are modifiers that serve solely to limit the quantity of a noun or to restrict the meaning of the phrase behind it.  Examples of limiting modifiers are nearly, merely, only, almost, or even.

In the sentence about the barbershop, the word only is the modifier.  But the placement of this modifier makes the sentence confusing.  Should the reader believe that only the barbershop is the only shop that is closed those days? If this is the intention, revise as:

Only the barbershop is open from Tuesday thru Saturday.

But maybe the writer meant the barbershop is only opened those days? Revise as:

The barbershop is open only from Tuesday thru Saturday.

When the modifier is misplaced, it belongs in the pesky pile labeled “dangling modifier”, because it is doing just that- dangling about the sentence without proper placement.

Because of its misplacement within a sentence, a dangling modifier ends up either modifying the wrong word or phrase, or not modifying any part of the sentence at all. When the reader is left to figure out what the object being modified, it can have a confusing, and sometimes humorous effect.

(Remember how we thought it was Margaret being taped to the wall in the thumbnail?)

Dangling modifiers also exist as prepositional phrases. Look at the sentence below:

Eric was excited that he won the kite contest majorly.

Did Eric win the kite contest majorly, or was he excited majorly that he won?  Let’s suppose the writer meant that Eric was majorly excited.

Revised by placing the modifier closer to the noun that it needs to modify, which in this case is Eric.

Eric was majorly excited that he won the kite contest.

Often, a dangling modifier will exist as a participle phrase.  Remember, a participle phrase is a phrase that explains a past or present participle (action that describes the state of the main noun).  You see this in the form of verbs ending in -ing as present participles and ending in -ed as past participles. (Here’s hoping that many of us even remember just what a participle even is…)

Thumping loudly, I kept dancing to the music. Was I thumping loudly, or was the music loudly?

Revise by placing the modifier closer to the participle phrase that it intends to modify (or specify).

I kept dancing to the deep bass thumping loudly in the music.

There are tons of other uses of dangling modifiers.

An editor’s job is to make the author’s intentions clear. 

The key is to identify the modifying word and replace the modifier in the sentence.  If necessary, shift around more items in the sentence, but usually this resolves the issue seamlessly.

Without clear writing, the reader is lost and becomes uninterested

Hope that helps!


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