When a phrase appears in a sentence and there is no surety of what it may be referring to, there are high chances of it being a dangling modifier. The phrase that has nothing to modify in a sentence dangles without any function in that sentence hence the name dangling modifier. Mostly, dangling modifiers appear in nouns that are close to them. For instance, when a noun or a noun phrase is left out, there is always an intention of modifying it though the modifier may appear referring to something else. This may result in a hilarious and confusing phrase.
What is a Dangling Modifier
A dangling modifier is a phrase that does not modify the word that is intended to be modified. It may also refer to a word that doesn’t appear in the entire sentence. It’s, therefore, a grammatical error. Dangling modifies are rectified by adding noun phrases that can be logically described by that modifier or by making them part of the dependent clause.
Types Of Dangling Modifiers
Dangling modifiers are in different forms and types. For instance, a clause that does not relate to anything in a sentence is a type of dangling modifier. Here is an example;
- ‘While waiting for the wedding to begin, the cake caught his attention.’
Here, the question is, who was waiting for the wedding to begin? The sentence structure shows that the cake was waiting but in reality, it was a character that was not mentioned in that sentence and even if this character was mentioned in the previous sentence, it would still be a dangling modifier. It, therefore, requires the word to be modified to appear within the sentence.
In another instance, a modifier may be a word in a sentence that is not close to it. For example:
- After farming the whole day, the rains disappointed her.
In the above sentence, ‘after farming the whole day’ seems to refer to the rains but in the real sense, the writer meant ‘her’.
Correcting Dangling Modifiers
Dangling modifiers are corrected by changing modifying clauses into subordinate clauses. This is achieved by adjusting phrases and making them include both a verb and a subject. For the wedding example above, a pronoun could just be added to make it more sensible as follows; ‘while he was waiting for the wedding to begin, the cake caught his attention.’
Alternatively, the rest of the sentence can be changed to correct a dangling modifier by making it closer to the word it modifies.
Using the example of ‘the rains’ above, the rest of the sentence can be changed as follows;
- After farming the whole day, she was disappointed by the rains. This makes it vivid that she was the one farming the whole day.
In fixing dangling modifiers, it is important to explore how they should appear in a sentence that is grammatically correct. Here is the example;
- Having eaten all the food, it was important to cook another one.
The above dangling modifier raises a question of ‘who ate all the food’ and for it to be corrected, there must be the mention of the person who did that action. Hence it should read as follows;
- Having eaten all the food, James had to cook another one.
Many scholars tend to confuse dangling modifiers with phrases. See the example below;
- The very hungry girl ate fast.
It is clear that ‘hungry’ is an adjective modifying the girl and very is an adverb modifying the adjective. If the subject is omitted in the sentence the words would turn to a dangling modifier as outlined below;
- The very hungry ate fast.
As noted above, with phrases it is easier to form dangling modifiers unintentionally.
The phrase modifies the subject but when looked at closely it is also a dangling modifier at times.
Sentences with passive voice also contain dangling modifiers. For example;
- Hungry, the leftover food was devoured;
The adjective ‘hungry’ is a dangling modifier because food can neither be hungry nor devour itself. Therefore the sentence needs a subject so that the description can be outlined by the modifier.
To conclude, a dangling modifier can also be used as a dangling participle that ends in –ing or –ed. This participle can act as an adjective and can be spotted by a mere look at the sentence.
Dangling Modifier Infographic