3 Examples of Dangling Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

In each of the sentences below, the sentence has been constructed so that the noun or pronoun that a modifying phrase should refer to is missing, which may or may not cause reader confusion but definitely will distract, often because an inanimate object is mistakenly ascribed human agency, sometimes resulting in an unintentionally humorous reading. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and revisions demonstrate solutions.

1. Lifestyle enhancements are crucial if markets slide when approaching retirement.

In the absence of the appropriate noun or pronoun identifying who is approaching retirement, the reader ascribes the impending retirement to the nearest noun or pronoun; here, the sentence refers to markets approaching retirement. To rectify this error, introduce the pertinent noun or pronoun before “approaching retirement”: “Lifestyle enhancements are crucial if markets slide when you are approaching retirement.” (The sentence can be further revised to “Lifestyle enhancements are crucial if markets slide as you approach retirement.”)

2. Social exclusion is inevitable when faced with mobility restrictions.

Here, social exclusion is said to be faced with mobility restrictions. To revise the sentence so that it conveys the intended message, insert an explicit reference to who is faced with the restrictions: “Social exclusion is inevitable when one is faced with mobility restrictions.”

3. Youthful misdemeanors can come back to haunt you while job hunting.

In this sentence, youthful misdemeanors are treated as actors in a scenario in which they take time out from their search for employment to carry out a function normally assigned to ghosts. But the correct interpretation is that while you are seeking work, mistakes you’ve made in the past may resurface during the vetting process, as expressed in the following revision: “Youthful misdemeanors can come back to haunt you while you are job hunting.”

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