5 More Dangling Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Judging from the relative ease with which I accumulate real-world examples of dangling modifiers — introductory phrases that provide additional information but do not integrate grammatically with the sentence’s subject — I conclude that this error is among the most common of grammatical sentence-construction flubs. Here are five more examples from my overstuffed vault.

1. “A culmination of eighteen years of work, Jones admits he realized he was ‘basically making the same movie over and over again.’”
The writer has hidden the key component of this sentence — a reference to a film Jones directed after the revelation that his previous work had been repetitive. Any effective revision of this sentence must explicitly refer to the latest project, but the sentence should also begin by identifying the filmmaker and then parenthetically referring to the newest film: “Jones, whose film is a culmination of eighteen years of work, admits he realized he was ‘basically making the same movie over and over again.’”

2. “Delivered in Smith’s soft-spoken, nurturing manner, students can paint along with the master.”
As in the previous example, this sentence only implies the context — this is a description of an audio recording of an artist teaching people how to paint. For the sentence to make sense, the educational materials must be explicitly mentioned: “Using these lessons, delivered in Smith’s soft-spoken, nurturing manner, students can paint along with the master.”

3. “Tall, still lean, and still performing at eighty-three, Taylor’s legacy has not diminished with time.”
Taylor, rather than his legacy, is described in the introductory phrase, so the two ideas must be separated, and Taylor must be associated with the descriptions, while the reference to the legacy can be appended at the end: “Tall and still lean, Taylor is still performing at eighty-three, and his legacy has not diminished with time.”

4. “For Lukas’s mom, playing in the school band has given her son a chance to stretch himself and see what he is capable of accomplishing.”
This sentence reads as if Lukas’s mother is playing in the school band and implies that her participation has had the stated effects on her son. But he, not his mother, is in the school band, and her role in the sentence is merely to provide the information. This sentence can easily convey the writer’s intent with a straightforward attribution: “Lukas’s mom says her son’s participation in the school band has given him a chance to stretch himself and see what he is capable of accomplishing.”

5. “A brutal dictator, his regime was unchallenged until the uprising that began in February.”
According to this sentence, someone’s regime was a brutal dictator. The revision should simply identify the regime as “belonging” to the tyrant: “The brutal dictator’s regime was unchallenged until the uprising that began in February.”

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7 Responses to “5 More Dangling Modifiers”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with Ed Good in his posting.

    I also had in mind already to write that the writers of the above examples were doing one or both of the following:
    A. Not thinking very clearly before and during their writing.
    B. Expecting their readers to fill in the gaps and twists in their writing.
    Sometimes that is not possible, and it is never desirable.
    Since the topic of the article is “5 More Dangling Modifiers”, I can say that those are in the category of “Dangling for a Mangling”. In other words, those sentences are set up for dangled meanings.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Ed Good’s posting seems to have disappeared while I was writing mine. I did not have anything to do with this.
    D.A.W.

  • Kevin Tousey

    Mark,

    This is probably an issue that we’ve all learned to live with for too long. Text books and instructors have taught us how to write and correct these problems, often without recognition of the true problem. Long, wordy, run-on type sentences make paragraphs harder to read, correct, and interpret.

  • Punnu Baloch

    A better replacement of the sentence “Jones, whose film is a culmination of eighteen years of work, admits he realized he was ‘basically making the same movie over and over again.’” can be as follows.

    “Jones, whose film is a culmination of eighteen years of work, realized that he was ‘basically making the same movie over and over again.’”

  • Mark Nichol

    Well, stretch me out on an irony board and flatten my wrinkles. In writing a post about dangling modifiers, I opened with a dangling participle, since corrected: “Judging from the relative ease with which I accumulate real-world examples of dangling modifiers . . . this error is among the most common of grammatical sentence-construction flubs” (which implies that “this error,” rather than the writer, is doing the judging) has been revised to read, “I conclude that this error . . . .”

  • Mark Nichol

    Punnu:

    Your revision does not explicitly attribute the partial quotation to Jones. That’s why “admits he,” or a similar attribution, is necessary.

  • Bob Castaldi

    In example #1, I find the revised wording very confusing. Using the singular words ‘film’ and ‘is’ gives me the impression that Jones worked on one film over and over again for 18 years. Is that the intent of the sentence… that it is one film and Jones might have a form of senility since it took him 18 years to realize his problem?

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