Dangling & Misplaced Modifiers

A modifier is a phrase or word meant to describe or explain part of a sentence. When modifiers are used correctly, the meaning of the sentence is clear. When modifiers are used incorrectly the meaning of the sentence can change drastically.  Using modifiers correctly will improve the clarity of your work.  Watch out for the two modifier mistakes:

  • Dangling Modifiers
  • Misplaced Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

“A dangling modifier is a word or word group that refers to (or modifies) a word or phrase that has not been clearly stated in the sentence” (Harris 118).  When a sentence begins with a phrase that is not directly connected to the subject that it refers to, that phrase is “dangling.”  The following are examples of incorrect modifiers and how to correct a dangling modifier:

Examples:

Incorrect: Driving past The Bread Box Café, the sun peeked through the clouds.

This sentence implies that the sun was the “doer of the action”, that the sun was driving past The Break Box Café.

Correct: Driving past The Bread Box Café, Suzanne saw the sun peek through the clouds.

Incorrect: Having just met the new roommates, it was certain that this year would come down to survival of the fittest.

In this sentence the subject “it” takes on the action of “having just met the new roommates.”

Correct: Having just met the new roommates, Joey was certain that this year would come down to survival of the fittest.

Misplaced Modifiers

“A misplaced modifier is a word or word group placed so far away from what it refers to (or modifies) that the reader may be confused.  Modifiers should be placed as closely as possible to the words they modify in order to keep the meaning clear” (Harris 120).  The following are examples of incorrect modifiers and how to correct a misplaced modifier:

Examples:

Incorrect: The Girl Scouts went wild when they were told that they had raised one million dollars by selling cookies at the troop meeting.

The way this sentence is written means that during the troop meeting the Girl Scouts raised one million dollars.  However, “at the troop meeting” should actually refer to where “they were told.”

Correct:  The Girl Scouts went wild when they were told at the troop meeting that they had raised one million dollars by selling cookies.

Misplaced modifiers can also be just one word.  These are some of the frequently misplaced one-word modifiers: almost, even, hardly, just merely, nearly, only (Harris 121).  Changing the location of these individual words changes the meaning of the sentence.

Example: The student passed almost all of her classes.

This sentence means that she passed most of her classes, but not all of them.

The student almost passed all of her classes.

This sentence means that she came close to passing all of her classes but didn’t actually pass any of them.

As you work on avoiding dangling and misplaced modifiers, you might want to have a peer tutor read over your essays.  If they mention that a sentence is unclear or awkward, check for a dangling or misplaced modifier.