Grammar Quiz #10: Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences includes a modifying phrase that confuses because it the statement is erroneously constructed or because the phrase is incorrectly located in the sentence. Recast the sentence so that the phrase properly modifies the part of the sentence it refers to.

1. Waiting for the rainstorm to pass through, the day passed slowly.

2. We only drove as far as the state line the first day.

3. To complete the transaction, the check box for the terms of service must be checked.

4. Limping along the sidewalk, I felt sorry for the stray dog.

5. They gave prizes to the top contestants in gift-wrapped boxes.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Waiting for the rainstorm to pass through, the day passed slowly.
Correct : While we waited for the rainstorm to pass through, the day passed slowly.
Alterna.: Waiting for the rainstorm to pass through, we watched the day pass slowly.

The sentence requires — in either the main clause or the dependent clause — reference to one or more participants who are waiting.

2.
Original: We only drove as far as the state line the first day.
Correct : We drove only as far as the state line the first day.

When only precedes the verb, the implication is that only driving, and no other action, occurred, but the meaning is that driving occurred only to a certain point.

3.
Original: To complete the transaction, the check box for the terms of service must be checked.
Correct : To complete the transaction, check the check box to indicate that you agree to the terms of service.

An actor must be specified for the action in the main clause.

4.
Original: Limping along the sidewalk, I felt sorry for the stray dog.
Correct : As I watched the dog limping along the sidewalk, I felt sorry for it.

The sentence construction implies that the person identified as the subject was limping. Depending on the context, this may be true, but more likely, the dog, the subject of the person’s sympathy, is the injured party.

5.
Original: They gave prizes to the top contestants in gift-wrapped boxes.
Correct : They gave prizes in gift-wrapped boxes to the top contestants.

This sentence implies that the prize recipients were wearing, or located in, boxes. The modifying phrase about the prizes should immediately follow the reference to the prizes.

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