3 Types of Erroneously Located Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

The three sentences below demonstrate related syntactical errors: a misplaced adjective clause, a misplaced modifier, and a dangling participle, respectively. Discussion following each example explains the error, and a revision solves it.

1. Shortly after Smith spoke, Jones’s ruling was released, which was in favor of groups who say the state provides constitutionally inadequate mental health care for prison inmates.

The parenthetical in this sentence, and adjective clause, must immediately follow not the phrase that includes the noun to which it pertains but the noun itself: “Shortly after Smith spoke, Jones’s ruling, which was in favor of groups who say the state provides constitutionally inadequate mental health care for prison inmates, was released.”

2. Even as he reassured them that their jobs were safe at the morning meeting, he told other advisers he knew he needed to make big changes.

This sentence contains a misplaced modifier that suggests that the jobs were safe at the morning meeting, but they were safe in general, so the additional, nonessential information “at the morning meeting” should immediately follow the part of the sentence that it modifies: “Even as he reassured them at the morning meeting that their jobs were safe, he told other advisers he knew he needed to make big changes.”

3. After electing to take another flight, we are reaching out to the passenger to resolve this issue.

The participial phrase (so called because it includes a participle—in this case, electing) features a dangling participle because the phrase refers to the passenger but immediately precedes the subject we. Often, a sentence that includes a dangling participle is easily revised by changing the subject so that it pertains to the participial phrase, but in this case, the result would be the awkwardly passive statement “After electing to take another flight, the passenger was contacted so that we could resolve this issue.” A better alternative is to convert the participial phrase to an independent clause: “The passenger elected to take another flight, and we are reaching out to her to resolve this issue.”

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