Dangling modifiers - Graduate Writing Center

Nested Applications
Dangling Modifers

Dangling Modifiers


A modifier is a word or phrase that describes or specifies another term. When we say a modifier is dangling, the modifier implicitly modifies one thing but technically (syntactically) modifies something else, potentially generating confusion (or humor): 

Having finished my dinner, the waiter offered to bring dessert.

This statement would be correct only if the waiter came and ate your last few bites! That opening phrase is clearly meant to modify "I" (the person referred to by "my"), but the way the sentence is written makes it apply to "the waiter," who will probably not be getting a very good tip.

To untangle this mismatch, either make sure the introductory phrase contains an action actually performed by the main subject (by changing (1) the intro phrase or (2) the subject) or (3) add the correct subject to the intro phrase:

  1. Seeing that I had finished my dinner, the waiter offered to bring dessert.
  2. Having finished my dinner, I entertained the waiter's offer of dessert.
  3. After I finished my dinner, the waiter offered to bring dessert.

Here's another example, this time with the dangling modifier at the end:

The park ranger spotted a bear peering through her binoculars. (Smart bear!)

This sentence can be rearranged to place the modifier next to the entity it describes:

Peering through her binoculars, the park ranger spotted a bear.

Learn more about modifiers and how not to let them dangle with the following links.
 

Dangling Modifiers Links

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