7 More Fixes for Dangling Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Some time ago, I pointed out the perils of dangling modifiers, presenting sample sentences and offering annotated revisions. Unfortunately, my stock of such specimens, discovered in the course of my editing work and in leisure reading alike, has grown rather than diminished. I therefore here inflict another set of them on you, one of as many rounds as are necessary to finally eradicate dangling modifiers from the face of the Earth.

As a guest columnist for DailyWritingTips explained quite well in her post on the topic, “The dangling modifier is usually a phrase or an elliptical clause (a dependent clause in which some words have intentionally been left out), often at the beginning of a sentence, that either doesn’t modify anything specific in the sentence or modifies the wrong word or part of the sentence.”

Here’s a dissection of sentences entangled by dangling modifiers:

1. “Drawn from a series of wildly popular cookbooks, international culinary celebrity, Australia-based Steve James, presents practical versions of the world’s greatest vegetarian cuisine.”

The sentence implies that the celebrity in question is drawn from the cookbooks. Whenever you’re confronted with such a contextual contortion, start with the subject. While you’re at it, level the adjectival stack by relaxing the person’s description: “Steve James, an international culinary celebrity based in Australia, presents practical versions of the world’s greatest vegetarian cuisine drawn from a series of wildly popular cookbooks.”

2. “Once used to store ice, food, and alcohol, guests can still explore the mine and enjoy its cool temperature all year round.”

Guests can consume ice, food, and alcohol, but they can’t store it. That’s the mine’s job, so recast the sentence to say as much by, as in the previous example, simply starting with the subject, followed by the reference to its earlier purpose: “The mine was once used to store ice, food, and alcohol, and guests can still explore the tunnels and enjoy their cool temperature all year round.”

3. “Originally founded as a purveyor of trinkets for Japanese festivals and carnivals, the company’s rise to prominence began in the early 1970s.”

The use of a possessive form of a noun immediately after an introductory modifier is a screaming sign of a syntactical screw-up. The subject of the sentence is not “the company,” but “the company’s rise to prominence,” so it is the company’s rocket to stardom, not the company itself, that is incorrectly being identified as having been founded.

Recast the sentence so that the company itself, not its ascendancy, is the subject: “The company, originally founded as a purveyor of trinkets for Japanese festivals and carnivals, rose to prominence beginning in the early 1970s.”

4. “As your mortgage loan originator, you will receive the benefit of my lending experience and ongoing education to help guide you throughout the entire loan process.”

I’ve heard of self-service, but this is ridiculous. This sentence seems to be confused about the identity of my mortgage loan originator, who (in this case, anyway), inappropriately puts the customer first. The writer is offering their expertise, so the subject must be a first-person pronoun: “As your mortgage loan originator, I offer you the benefit of my lending experience and ongoing education to help guide you throughout the entire loan process.”

5. “While going to the bar one last time, my ‘Mike Johnson’ campaign sign accidentally falls out of my jacket pocket.”

The writer’s “Mike Johnson” campaign sign has obviously gone to the bar too many times already if it can’t prevent itself from falling out of his jacket pocket. The writer must introduce themselves into the modifier to make it clear that they, not the sign, are frequenting the bar: “While I’m going to the bar one last time, my ‘Mike Johnson’ campaign sign accidentally falls out of my jacket pocket.” (Also, the quotation marks around the candidate’s name are optional, but because those words are presumably featured on the sign, the marks are appropriate.)

6. “Bordered by Libya, Sudan, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic, the CIA list for natural hazards includes ‘periodic droughts and locust plagues,’ which places Chad in a proper biblical context.”

Chad, not the CIA list, is bordered by the other named nations, so why is it relegated to the end of the sentence? Introduce it, appropriately, in the introductory phrase: “The list of natural hazards for Chad, bordered by Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan, includes ‘periodic droughts and locust plagues,’ which places the nation in a proper biblical context.” (Notice, also, that I reordered the heretofore randomly listed names of countries alphabetically; for geographical entities, a sequence corresponding to relative location is also appropriate. Avoid arbitrarily ordered lists.)

7. “Since releasing their 2002 debut, the biggest criticism directed at the band has been that they couldn’t replicate their raucous live energy in the studio.”

Is “the Biggest Criticism” the name of the band? No. The unnamed band released the debut, so the sentence must be heavily revised to shift “the band” to immediately follow the introductory modifier: “Since the release of their 2002 debut, the band has been the subject of criticism, primarily that it couldn’t replicate its raucous live energy in the studio.” (Also — in American English, at least — a band is a single entity and should be referred to by single pronouns.)

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8 Responses to “7 More Fixes for Dangling Modifiers”

  • Paul M

    Being unaware of dangling modifiers, this post will help me in my future writing endeavors.

  • Kathryn

    Always a good reminder–and those were some ripsnorting examples, Marc!
    Paul M: Snicker!

  • Ken K

    Hello Mark,

    Do you think that No. 7 should read this way, “Since the release of its 2002 debut, the band has … “?

  • Ken K

    @Mark:

    Also for No. 6, what happened to the CIA?

    According to the CIA, the list of …

  • Paul M

    🙂

  • jennife

    “The writer must introduce themselves” – in point 5 of this article. Is this correct English?

  • Mudge

    Found just this morning on the web site of a TV station in Boston: “After sitting on the shelf for 10 years, Peterson decided to take a closer look at a WWII helmet.”

  • Precise Edit

    My favorite example of this: Swimming happily, the corpse floated by his head.

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