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Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers -

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_I_hit_him_in_the_eye_yesterdayInsert the wordonlyin any of the eight positions to get eight different meanings
“In addition to being ugly and inappropriate, the students often make grammatical errors on their signs.”
A Grammar Tutorialby Nancy Schrock
Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers
Topics for Today’s Discussion
Definition of a modifierTypes of modifiersExamples of misplaced and dangling modifiersCorrecting the problemExercises and a confessionConclusions
What is a modifier?An expression that limits or describes another word or phraseWords, phrases, or subordinate clausesExample:Littleboats (little describes boats)
Types of Modifiers
Adjectives- modify nouns or pronounsLittleboatsstay close to shore.Adverbs- modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbsLittle boatssailslowly. (adverb)Participialphrases- function as adjectives and are participles (verbs ending in-ing) plus other wordsHaving no GPS, our boat stays close to shore.Prepositionalphrases- function as adjectives or adverbs, preposition + noun or noun equivalentWith only one sail, our boat stays close to shore.Infinitivephrases-as modifiers can function as adjectives or adverbsTo avoid risk, we sail our boat close to shore.Subordinateclauses- as modifiers they contain a subject + verb but function as adjectives or adverbsLittle boatsthat stay close to shoreavoid taking risks.
Not usually a problem
Can be problematic
Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers
Misplaced modifiersarenot nearthe word they modifyExample: If you stay close to the shorefor little boats, the risk of sinking is reduced. (For little boatsis close toshoreand seems to be modifyingshore.)Improved: If you stay close to the shore, the risk of sinking for little boats is reduced.Dangling modifieris one where theword modifiedis not explicitExample:By staying close to shore, the risk of sinking is reduced. (The word modified,boat, is not in the sentence.)Improved: By staying close to shore, little boats reduce the risk of sinking.Delayed subject--itorthereis nearest the modifier but is not theword modifiedExample:By staying close to shore,itis possible for littleboatsto reduce the risk of sinking. (Itdelays the appearance of the subject, boats, and reduces the clarity of the meaning.)Improved: By staying close to shore, little boats reduce the risk of sinking.
More Misplaced Modifiers
Squinting modifiersA modifiercaught between two words, either of which might be themodified wordExample: Little boatssailingquicklyfoundtar close to shore (Did the boats sail quickly or quickly find tar?)Improved: When the little boats sailed near to shore, they quickly found tar.Split infinitives (to + verb)Amodifierplaced betweentoand theverbExample:…tocarefullystayclose to shore….Improved: …to stay carefully close to shore….
How to Correct Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
The modifier should be positioned to give the correct meaning - usuallynear the word modifiedMake theword modified obviousand not hidden or ambiguousDon’t split infinitivesRecognize that modifiers can be misplaced or dangling and consult a guide when in doubt
BP wassureby Augustthe oilwould be stopped. (squinting modifier -- Was BP sure by August or would the oil be stopped by August?)BP was sure the oilwould be stoppedby August.Remembering that one can tell a cracked vessel by its sound, Tony Hayward stated to the press that he wanted his life back. (dangling modifier -- It was not Tony who remembered this expression.)Remembering that one can tell a cracked vessel by its sound,Iwatched Tony Hayward state to the press that he wanted his life back.
Throwing pearls to swine, it was clear BP executives would not takethescientists’advice. (delayed subject)Throwing pearls to swine,thescientistsgave BP executives advice that they would not take.At the risk of being insensitive, he will get another date withmewhen hell freezes over. (misplaced modifier -- The speaker or writer is the one at risk of being insensitive.)At the risk of being insensitive,Itold him I would date him again when hell freezes over.
InThe Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne hadtopubliclywearthe red letter “A” to mark her as an adulterer. (split infinitive)InThe Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne hadto wearpubliclythe red letter “A” to mark her as an adulterer.When her performance did not improve,Penny worked with Kelly Services to have the contractor replaced. (It was not Penny’s performance that was a problem.)When thecontractor’sperformance did not improve, Penny worked with Kelly Services to have the contractor replaced. (addedwhoseperformance to the subordinate clause)
Ensureclarityof meaning with modifiersLocate the modifiernear the word modifiedMake the word modifiedobviousand not ambiguousSeek assistance from references when in doubt!References:From the Writing Lab website: Writer’s Reference, Diana HackerThe Random House Handbook





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Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers -