Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dangling Modifyers

In a well written sentence the object of the sentence tells the reader more about the subject of the sentence. In its simplest form—
The sky (subject) is (verb) blue (object).

After reading the entire sentence we have learned more about the sky (the subject) from reading the object (it’s blue).

In more complicated sentences there can be adjectives, adverbs and clauses all thrown in as well, but the aim is still the same, to find out more about the subject of the sentence.

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept. In English sentences, the doer must be the subject of the main clause that follows.

A dangling modifier may be supposed to tell us about the subject, but somewhere in construction the correct noun got lost.

Unlocking his car door, his glasses fell to the ground.
Unlocking his car door is a dangling modifier. It is not attached to the subject of the sentence. In fact, the reader isn’t sure what the subject of the sentence should be. Is it the car door? The glasses? Or the person? Has he got magical glasses that can unlock the car door for him?

Unlocking his car door, Fred dropped his glasses and they fell to the ground.
So now Fred is the subject of the sentence and “Unlocking his car door” is no longer dangling.

“His glasses fell to the ground while Fred unlocked his car door”, is another way to make the sentence work.

Sometimes a dangling modifier doesn’t make sense at all.

A newspaper printed:
“After years of being lost under a pile of dust, Walter P. Stanley, III, left, found all the old records of the Bangor Lions Club”.
Poor Walter, spending all those years under a pile of dust!

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.


anny cook said...

Great examples!

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Thanks Anny. This is one of the most common faults I find in books.