What is a Dangling Modifier?
A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about the subject it modifies. A “dangling modifier” is a word or phrase that does not clearly or logically modify the actual subject of the sentence.
Consider this sentence:
Having finished the assignment, Jill turned on the TV.
“Having finished” is an opening participial phrase expressing action, but, while the doer is not immediately identified in the phrase, it is clearly intended to be taken as the subject of the main clause that follows, Jill. Therefore, this sentence is correct.
Now consider this sentence:
Having finished the assignment, the TV was turned on.
“Having finished” is again an opening participial phrase expressing action, but this time the doer is apparently the TV set (the subject of the main clause). Since TV sets don’t finish assignments, the doer of the action expressed in the participle has not been clearly identified, and the participial phrase is considered a dangling modifier.
Characteristics of Dangling Modifiers:
They most frequently occur at the beginning of sentences (introductory clauses or phrases, as above). They can also appear at the end of sentences:
The experiment was a failure, not having studied the lab manual carefully.
“The experiment”—the subject of the main clause—could not have studied the lab manual.
Revision: They failed the experiment, not having studied the lab manual carefully.
Strategies for Revising Dangling Modifiers:
1. Name the appropriate or logical doer of the action as the subject of the main clause:
Having arrived late for practice, a written excuse was needed.
Who arrived late? This sentence says that the written excuse arrived late. To revise, decide who actually arrived late.
Revision: Having arrived late for practice, the captain of the team needed a written excuse.
2. Change the phrase that dangles into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer of the action in that clause.
Without knowing his name, it was difficult to introduce him.
Who didn’t know his name? This sentence says that “it” didn’t know his name.
To revise, decide who was trying to introduce him.
Revision: Since John didn’t know his name, it was difficult to introduce him.
3. Combine the phrase and main clause.
To improve his results, the experiment was done again.
Who wanted to improve results? This sentence says that the experiment was trying to improve its own results. To revise, combine the phrase and the main clause into one sentence.
Revision: He improved his results by doing the experiment again.
Related to dangling modifiers, squinting modifiers occur when the word modified is not clear or could be more than one word. They are often adverbs, but not exclusively. These problems can usually be solved by rearranging the elements already present in the sentence.
The mystery has been solved after ten years of the missing portrait.
Revision: After ten years, the mystery of the missing portrait has been solved.
The mystery of the missing portrait has been solved after ten years.
Source: Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL)