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  Home > InfoWrite > Grammar > Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

InfoTrac College Edition

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Modifiers are adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions that add information about nouns and verbs:

  • Exhausted, Mary walked slowly to the old, dented car.

The word exhausted modifies Mary. Slowly is an adverb describing how Mary walked. The adjectives old and dented modify the car.

Modifiers only work when they are clearly placed. Misplaced modifiers create confusing sentences:

  • I saw the woman who was elected mayor in the shopping mall.
    (Was the election held in a shopping mall?)
  • She wore a ribbon in her hair which was red.
    (What is red, her hair or the ribbon?)

Modifiers must be placed next to what they describe to avoid confusion:

  • When I was in the shopping mall, I saw the woman who was elected mayor.
  • She wore a red ribbon in her hair.

Dangling modifiers occur at the opening of a sentence when they fail to modify what immediately follows the comma:

  • Opened in 1892, many tourists visit Ellis Island.
    (Many tourists were not opened in 1892)
  • Opened in 1892, Ellis Island has become a tourist attraction.

You can apply this simple test to detect dangling modifiers:

  1. Read the sentence:
    Having neglected repairs, the car broke down.
  2. Identify the opening modifier:
    Having neglected repairs
  3. Ask who or what it modifies. The answer follows the comma:
    Q: Who neglected repairs? A: the car
    (the car didn't repair anything)
  4. Devise corrected versions:
    The neglected car broke down.
    Neglected for years, the car broke down.

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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.