Quit Dangling Your Modifiers in Front of Me!

Courtesy of Judy Sawler

Today we have our first Grammar Party guest blogger! Judy Sawler is a freelance copy editor and the writer of a fantastic blog about copy editing, Write Or Revise Daily. Be sure to check it out to solve your writing and editing conundrums. Take it away, Judy.

This is a topic I find fun to talk about. It’s easy to write sentences with dangling modifiers without realizing that you did. When writing or editing, a sharp eye needs to be kept for them.

A dangling modifier usually appears at the beginning a sentence and seems to modify the first noun or pronoun in the main clause of the sentence. In reality, the modifier modifies nothing.

Dangling modifiers often occur because the main part of the sentence uses passive voice and, therefore, the subject is unclear. Here are some examples of sentences with dangling modifiers and suggestions for how to revise them.

1. After closing the store, the security bars were pulled down and locked.
What does after closing the store modify? Who or what is the subject of the sentence? Did the bars (noun) close the store? No, a person must have closed the store. The main part of the sentence is in passive voice (were pulled): there is no clear subject (doer of the action). So, to make the sentence correct, write something like the following that uses active voice and, thus, clarifies the subject (We’ll call her Bonnie.):

After closing the store, Bonnie pulled down and locked the security bars.

After Bonnie closed the store, she pulled down and locked the security bars.

2. Having had pneumonia, the deadline was missed.
Who is the subject? The deadline did not have pneumonia.

Having had pneumonia, Tom missed the deadline.

Tom had pneumonia and missed the deadline.

3. Although soaking wet, we let the dog into the house.
We were not soaking wet, the dog was. We is the subject, but we still need to revise the sentence.

Although the dog was soaking wet, we let him into the house.

We let the dog into the house even though he was soaking wet.

4. To keep from being so hungry at lunch time, a snack can be kept nearby for your mid-morning break.
Again, who is the subject of the sentence? The snack doesn’t need to be kept from getting hungry; you do.

To keep from being so hungry at lunch time, (you) keep a snack nearby for your mid-morning break.

Keep a snack nearby for your mid-morning break so you aren’t so hungry at lunch time.

Oops! Did you catch the dangler at the beginning of this article? In the third sentence I should have written something like, “When you write or edit, you need to keep a sharp eye out for them” or “When you write or edit, keep a sharp eye out for them.”

Anyway, now I’m ready for a snack. See you all next time.

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3 thoughts on “Quit Dangling Your Modifiers in Front of Me!

  1. Pingback: My First Post as a Guest Blogger « Write Or Revise Daily (WORD!)

  2. I work in publishing, and I’m continually (unless it’s continuously) surprised at how many authors throw around dangling modifiers like mad. To be fair, these authors generally aren’t writers so much as they are scholars who are trying to get published . . . but I don’t think that totally excuses it.

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