Writing Pitfalls: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
Dangling modifiers do not clearly modify a word in a sentence. What ends up happening, then, is something like the picture to the right.
Take into account the following questions when you attempt to identify dangling modifiers:
- What is the subject of the sentence?
- Is the subject performing the action of the phrase?
If the answer to question 2 is “no,” then the modifier is dangling.
To revise a sentence with a dangling modifier, try the following steps:
- Identify the actor of the action in the picture. (My sister)
- Revise the sentence so that the subject of the sentence matches the modifier. (“My sister took the plants outside after she coaxed them back from the dead,” or “My sister revived the nearly dead plants, and took them outside.”)
Misplaced modifiers can also cause confusion in your reader. Make sure you keep modifiers close to the word they are modifying.
For example: She teaches a seminar this term on voodoo at VMI.
“On voodoo” is modifying the seminar, not the term, therefore a better way to word this would be:
She teaches a seminar on voodoo this term at VMI.
Avoid confusing your professors in your papers – look for ways to have modifiers directly modify your subject. I see dangling modifiers/misplaced modifiers most often when students are trying to sound more sophisticated in their voice. It’s a natural tendency to attempt to plump up your writing for academic works, but according to the professors I know, they simply want clear, concise and coherent language with a clear thesis.