Modifiers: Dangling modifiers

July 19, 2007: Issue 197

If you’ve ever heard a copy editor or English teacher on a grammatical rant, you know dangling modifiers are bad. But do you know exactly what a dangling modifier is?

A dangling modifier is usually a phrase at the beginning of a sentence that’s set up to modify the subject but doesn’t. The most obvious examples are laughable.
incorrect: Walking into the room, the chartreuse chair instantly grabbed Betsy’s attention.

The way this sentence is constructed, the chair is walking into the room. And while a walking chair certainly would grab someone’s attention, that’s not what we mean.

There are two easy fixes for a dangling modifier. One is to turn the introductory phrase into a clause with a subject of its own:
correct: As Betsy walked into the room, the chartreuse chair instantly grabbed her attention.

The other is to change the subject of the sentence:
correct: Walking into the room, Betsy immediately noticed the chartreuse chair.

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