Dangling modifiers: what the hell is that?

dangling modifier

Don't leave me hanging, baby.

That's what a modifier would say, if it could talk.

Because when you leave shit hanging around like that, misunderstandings happen. Embarrassing ones.

Allow me to elaborate...

What is a dangling modifier?

Before we can wade into the nitty gritty of what it is to dangle a modifier, we first need to chat about what a 'modifier' is.

It is—simply put—a word or phrase which changes or describes a noun or subject.

For example:

Sarah was super narked because she dropped her doughnut.

In this example, Sarah is our subject, and she is narked. The word 'narked' tells us about Sarah, and should always be kept in close proximity to her so that we know she's the one being modified.

If we put the modifier too close to the doughnut, we'll accidentally end up modifying that instead:

Super narked, the doughnut dropped.

Kinda makes the doughnut sound like a bitch. 

And no one wants a bitchy doughnut.

When you let a modifier dangle, you're leaving the subject out of the sentence, so there's a modification happening, but nothing for it to happen to.

When you misplace a modifier, you're putting it too far away from the subject or noun, so no one can tell what you're trying to modify.

Let's look at some hilarious examples, shall we?


Examples of dangling modifiers

So what do these dangling modifiers look like? Messed up, that's what. Take a look...

When the cat got off the bed, I changed it.

Changed what, bro? The cat?! Because that's how this wack sentence sounds. By introducing the cat as our first subject in the sentence, we automatically think the modifying clause is about him. But it isn't, it's about the bed. So we need to switch it up, like so...

I changed the bed when the cat got off it.

How about this...

Sarah was walking her dog in heels.

So, like...the dog was wearing heels? Because I'd dearly love to see that.

Truth is, Sarah's the one wearing heels, but she's too far away from the modifier 'in heels'. The closest noun we have is 'dog', so we just apply the modifier to that.

And that shit ain't right.

Sarah wore heels to walk her dog.

So much better already.

And what about this...

I saw a taxidermy badger drinking in the pub.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that thing won't be getting the rounds in. This shit is all messed up. Here's how we fix it:

I saw a taxidermy badger while I was drinking in the pub.

I'll be straight with you here—dangling and misplaced modifiers are quite hard to catch. I accidentally leave those things hanging all the time. You need a keen eye!

Emma Cownley