3 Cases of Dangling Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences begins with a modifying phrase that is erroneously constructed in such a way that it appears to refer to the subject but does not. A discussion of the problem, and a revision that solves it, follows each example.

1. While not intended to be all-inclusive, the committee recommends that its suggestions be carefully considered as potential opportunities.

As written, the modifying phrase implies that the committee is not intended to be all-inclusive, but it is the committee’s suggestions that do not have this intention. To fix the problem, explicitly refer to the suggestions in the modifying phrase: “While the committee’s suggestions are not intended to be all-inclusive, it recommends that they be carefully considered as potential opportunities.”

2. Like any major movie-franchise arrival, your TV, computer, and any other even tangentially pop culture–related technology will be inundated with publicity about the upcoming Star Trek film.

This sentence erroneously compares technological devices to films. This revision restates the comparison as being between “any major movie-franchise arrival” and “the upcoming Star Trek film”: “As is the case with any major movie-franchise arrival, your TV, computer, and any other even tangentially pop culture–related technology will be inundated with publicity about the upcoming Star Trek film.”

3. As a convert to Judaism, I imagine that you are familiar with Jewish teachings on compassionate speech as well as the teaching that children are not responsible for sins of their fathers.

Here, the writer identifies himself or herself as a convert to Judaism, but the writer’s intent to point out that the reader is the convert. The revision recasts the sentence so that the reference to conversion follows and therefore refers to the third-person pronoun rather than preceding the first-person pronoun and, as a result, implying that the writer is the convert: “I imagine that you, as a convert to Judaism, are familiar with Jewish teachings on compassionate speech as well as the teaching that children are not responsible for sins of their fathers.”

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2 Responses to “3 Cases of Dangling Modifiers”

  • Andy Knoedler

    I was surprised to see an en dash lurking in #2. Was that just a typo?

  • Mark Nichol

    Andy:
    The use of an en dash instead of a hyphen in a phrasal adjective here correctly follows the convention of doing so when one of the elements of the phrasal adjective is itself a standing phrase, as in “Civil War–era military technology.” The intention is that the reader will see “Civil War–era,” not “War-era” (and “pop culture–related,” rather than “culture-related”). I’m not sure whether this approach makes any difference, and newspaper style does not observe the distinction—nor do many writers, whether professional or amateur—but I honor it.

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