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dangling modifier


dangling modifier

"The hanging [dangling] participle is generally condemned as ungrammatical, rather than as a mere error of style. But it has long been widely used, most famously by Shakespeare in Hamlet." (Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 1994)


A word or phrase (commonly a participle or a participial phrase) that modifies a word that does not appear in the sentence.

One way to correct a dangling modifier is to add a noun phrase that the modifier can logically describe. Another way to correct a dangling modifier is to make the modifier part of a dependent clause.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "If acquitted, Mr. Mowen would get the money. If convicted, the proceeds--projected by Mr. Olson at $2 million to $3 million--would go to people who lost money in Mr. Mowen’s investment funds."
    ("Trial Pending, Suspect’s Cars Will Soon Be Freed." The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2010)

  • "That Wolfgang Puck introduced a new latte line may not be surprising, but the container, which heats itself, is. By pressing a button on the bottom, water mixes with quicklime, producing a chemical reaction that heats the coffee."
    (The New York Times, May 2005)

  • "Sitting in the huge fighting chair with the huge rod and reel, in the well of the huge sportfishing vessel, it was inescapably apparent who had the edge."
    (Paul Greenberg, "Tuna's End." The New York Times Magazine, June 21, 2010)

  • "If elected, Obama's main opposition will not come from Republicans."
    (David Brooks, "Talking Versus Doing." The New York Times, May 20, 2008)

  • By reversing the color scheme, the eye is captured.

  • "Travel writers seem particularly prone to dangling offences. Their crimes include the surreal: 'Sipping cocktails on the balcony, the moon looked magnificent.' (Really? What cocktail does the moon prefer?) 'Exhausted after the long hike, the shady hammock was a welcome sight.'

    "And the crazy: 'Going round the bend, the peaks of the Dolomites came into view.'

    "See? Dangling modifiers can be hilarious. But while we all like to amuse the readers, surely it is better if this is done intentionally."
    (Liz Boulter, "Excuse Me, But I Think Your Modifier Is Dangling." The Guardian, Aug. 4, 2010)

  • "Danglers come in many forms. Most often, the problem involves a descriptive phrase at the beginning of a sentence, referring to a noun or pronoun that follows. Here’s the key: that noun or pronoun should come immediately after the descriptive phrase. If not, the description 'dangles,' the connection is sloppy or obscure, and the reader may be momentarily confused.

    "Once recognized, a writer or editor can easily fix the dangler, and the result is a clearer, sharper sentence.

    "WAIT! IT’S A TRICK! That sentence has a classic dangler! The participle phrase 'once recognized' doesn’t refer to what immediately follows, 'a writer or editor.' One solution: Once recognized, a dangler is usually easy to fix, and the result is a clearer, sharper sentence."
    (Philip B. Corbett, "Left Dangling." The New York Times, Sep. 15, 2008)

  • "Dangling modifiers are common, old, and well-established in English literature. When the meaning is not ambiguous, Bryant 1962 allows them to be 'informal standard usage.' The evidence in Hall 1917 and other sources shows that they are not infrequent in literature of a more elevated sort. Who has censured the dangling modifier in these lines from [Alexander] Pope?
    Vice is a creature of such frightful mien
    As, to be hated, but to be seen.
    But seen too oft, familiar with her face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
    (in Barnard 1979)
    The one pitfall that must be avoided is unconscious humor . . .. The dangling modifier is a venial sin at most, but if you commit an unintentional howler, you are liable to be ridiculed."
    (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1994)
Also Known As: hanging modifier, floater, floating modifier, misrelated participle, dangling participle
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