What Is a Dangling Modifier?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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 dangling modifier is a word or phrase (often a participle or participial phrase) that doesn't actually modify the word it's intended to modify. In some cases, a dangling modifier refers to a word that doesn't even appear in the sentence. Also called a dangling participle, hanging modifier, floater, floating modifier, or misrelated participle.

Dangling modifiers are commonly (though not universally) regarded as grammatical errors.

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 Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

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."
  • Dangling Modifiers in Travel Writing
    "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.'
  • How to Correct Dangling Modifiers
    "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.
  • Revising a Dangling Modifier
    Original: Having financed the car through the bank, it will take three years to pay for it.
  • Revised: Having financed the car through the bank, he expects to pay for it in three years.
    (In this revised version, "having financed" is appropriately positioned to modify "he.")
  • "A Venial Sin, at Most"
    "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 the 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."
    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."

    Sources

    "Trial Pending, Suspect’s Cars Will Soon Be Freed." The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2010

    Liz Boulter, "Excuse Me, But I Think Your Modifier Is Dangling." The Guardian, August. 4, 2010

    Philip B. Corbett, "Left Dangling." The New York Times, Sep. 15, 2008

    Margaret Davidson, A Guide for Newspaper Stringers. Routledge, 2009

    In Barnard 1979

    Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1994

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    Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Dangling Modifier?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-dangling-modifier-1690415. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, June 13). What Is a Dangling Modifier? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-dangling-modifier-1690415 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Dangling Modifier?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-dangling-modifier-1690415 (accessed May 20, 2018).