A dangling modifier is a grammar mistake that makes it difficult to understand what the writer or speaker means. It is an incorrect usage of a modifier which is a word or phrase, particularly an adjective or adverb word or phrase, that enhances the meaning of another word. A modifier is a descriptor, meant to provide accuracy in communication. We will examine the definition of dangling modifier, some examples of this grammar mistake and some ways to avoid the dangling modifier.
A dangling modifier is often meant to modify a noun that does not appear in the sentence. The writer or speaker assumes the audience will understand the subject implied and the modifier dangles in the sentence, unattached to any noun. A sentence with a dangling modifier is usually nonsense, so one should avoid this situation at all costs.
When twenty-eight years old, my dog died.
This sentence seems to contain the information that the writer’s dog died when he was twenty-eight years old. That is nearly impossible and very improbable. (The record holder is an Australian Kelpie that died at the age of thirty, a very unusual feat.) The corrected sentence adds the noun that is being modified:
When I was twenty-eight years old, my dog died.
Note that the noun modified by “when twenty-eight years old” is I, not the dog.
An even better sentence:
My dog died when I was twenty-eight years old.
This sentence puts the important information at the beginning of the sentence, and adds the superfluous details at the end.
Sitting in the park, the sky grew dark.
Right away, most English speakers will see the problem with this sentence. It states that the sky was sitting in the park, which is a nonsensical idea. The corrected sentence adds the noun that is being modified:
While I was sitting in the park, the sky grew dark.
Note that the noun modified by “sitting in the park” is I, not the sky.
An even better sentence:
The sky grew dark while I was sitting in the park.
Again, this sentence puts the important information at the beginning and the extraneous information at the end.
Here are two things to remember to help you to avoid the dangling modifier:
1.) The best way to avoid dangling modifiers is to place the modifier in close proximity to the noun it is modifying. The noun it is modifying must appear in the sentence.
2.) Most dangling modifiers are a result of the passive voice and/or the use of a participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence. Try writing the sentence in a more active voice and straightforward voice.