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How to Fix a Dangling Modifier

Instructor: Valerie Keenan

Valerie has taught elementary school and has her master's degree in education.

A modifier is meant to describe a word in a sentence. When a sentence is missing the word that the modifier intends to describe, it is called a dangling modifier. Learn how to identify a dangling modifier and how to fix it.

Let's Clear Things Up a Bit

If you were standing next to a friend, and somebody from across the room looked in your direction and made the ''come here'' hand motion, you may be a little confused. You would have to ask ''who?'' before either of you walked that way, right?

If you fail to clarify who or what you are talking about, things might get confusing!
Who me?

Just like in social situations, the English language sometimes gets confusing. This can especially happen if words are out of order and fail to specify who or what they are talking about. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that adds description. In order for a sentence to be clear and sensible, a modifier needs to come right before or right after the word it is modifying, or describing. For example:

  • ''Covered in mud, Sam regretted running the race.''

Here, the modifier ''covered in mud'' is describing ''Sam.''

  • ''Emily, feeling hungry, devoured the entire bowl of chips.''

In this sentence, the modifier ''feeling hungry'' describes ''Emily.''

In both examples, the word being modified, or described, comes right before or right after the modifier, and there is no confusion.

Figuring Out Who Or What the Modifier Intends to Describe

If you are confused about who or what the modifier intends to describe, ask a simple question for each sentence. For example:

  • ''Emily, feeling hungry, devoured the entire bowl of chips.''
    • Who was feeling hungry? ⇒ Emily was feeling hungry.
  • ''Covered in mud, Sam regretted running the race.''
    • Who was covered in mud? ⇒ Sam was covered in mud.

Modifier

What Is a Dangling Modifier?

A dangling modifier occurs when the word being modified, or described, is left out of the sentence. For example:

  • ''Spraining his ankle, the race was not a fun experience.''

Here, ''spraining his ankle'' is a modifier that states an action, but we aren't sure who the ''doer'' of the action is. Would ''the race'' have an ankle to sprain? Definitely not! So, who sprained his ankle? In this sentence, ''spraining his ankle'' is a dangling modifier.

  • ''Delighted, the present was opened.''

In this sentence, ''delighted'' is an adjective that seems to modify ''the present.'' We all know that a present cannot be delighted or feel any type of emotion, so who was delighted? Here, ''delighted'' is a dangling modifier.

Dangling Modifier

How to Fix a Dangling Modifier

To fix the mistake of a dangling modifier, it will take more than simply rearranging the words in a sentence. It is necessary to actually add words to a sentence to make it correct in this case. For example, instead of:

  • ''Spraining his ankle, the race was not a fun experience.''

Try this:

  • ''Spraining his ankle, Tom did not enjoy the race.''
    • Now, we know that ''Tom'' is the one who sprained his ankle, and it makes much more sense!

Instead of:

  • ''Delighted, the present was opened.''

Try this:

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