Center for Writers - Resources

MISPLACED AND DANGLING MODIFIERS


There should be no confusion about which element in your sentence a modifier relates to. Sometimes the problem is a dangling modifier, a modifier which has nothing in the sentence to modify. A misplaced modifier does modify some element in the sentence, but because of its position the relationship is not clear.

Dangling Modifiers

        Dangling modifiers appear most often at the beginning of a sentence.

                Walking into the room, a large bust of Shakespeare caught my eye.

        Since the opening phrase does not modify either of the nouns in the main clause, provide a
        noun it can modify by changing the subject of the main clause or changing the phrase to a
        clause with its own subject.

                Walking into the room, I noticed a large bust of Shakespeare.
                As I walked into the room, a large bust of Shakespeare caught my eye.

Misplaced Modifiers

        Sometimes a modifier is positioned so that it appears to relate to some element other than
                    the one you intended.

                I bought a bus from an elderly man that was in good running condition.

        Place the modifier as close as possible to the element it modifies.

                I bought a bus that was in good running condition from an elderly man. .

        Modifiers such as only, almost, even, and just require special attention. Look at the
                    following two sentences.

                I have just eaten two of the sandwiches. I have eaten just two of the sandwiches.
                I only ate two sandwiches. I ate only two sandwiches.

Squinting modifiers

        A squinting modifier is one that may refer to either a preceding or a following word,
        leaving the reader uncertain about what it is intended to modify. A modifier can modify
        only one grammatical element in a sentence. It cannot serve two elements at once.
 

                    Squinting       Snipers who fired on the soldiers often escaped capture.
                Clear            Snipers who often fired on the soldiers escaped capture.
                Clear            Snipers who fired on the soldiers escaped capture often.

        When an adverb modifies an entire main clause, as in the last example, it can usually be
        moved to the beginning of the sentence: Often, snipers who fired on the soldiers escaped
        capture.