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Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers. A Grammar Tutorial by Nancy Schrock. Topics for Today’s Discussion. Definition of a modifier Types of modifiers Examples of misplaced and dangling modifiers Correcting the problem Exercises and a confession Conclusions. Modifier. What is a modifier?

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dangling and misplaced modifiers

Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

A Grammar Tutorial

by Nancy Schrock

topics for today s discussion
Topics for Today’s Discussion
  • Definition of a modifier
  • Types of modifiers
  • Examples of misplaced and dangling modifiers
  • Correcting the problem
  • Exercises and a confession
  • Conclusions
modifier
Modifier
  • What is a modifier?
    • An expression that limits or describes another word or phrase
    • Words, phrases, or subordinate clauses
    • Example: Little boats (little describes boats)
types of modifiers
Types of Modifiers
  • Adjectives - modify nouns or pronouns
    • Littleboats stay close to shore.
  • Adverbs - modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs
    • Little boats sail slowly. (adverb)
  • Participial phrases - function as adjectives and are participles (verbs ending in -ing) plus other words
    • Having no GPS, our boat stays close to shore.
  • Prepositional phrases - function as adjectives or adverbs, preposition + noun or noun equivalent
    • With only one sail, our boat stays close to shore.
  • Infinitive phrases- as modifiers can function as adjectives or adverbs
    • To avoid risk, we sail our boat close to shore.
  • Subordinate clauses - as modifiers they contain a subject + verb but function as adjectives or adverbs
    • Little boats that stay close to shore avoid taking risks.

Not usually a problem

Can be problematic

misplaced or dangling modifiers
Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers
  • Misplaced modifiers are not nearthe word they modify
    • Example: If you stay close to the shore for little boats, the risk of sinking is reduced. (For little boats is close to shore and seems to be modifying shore.)
    • Improved: If you stay close to the shore, the risk of sinking for little boats is reduced.
  • Dangling modifier is one in which the word modified is not explicit
    • Example: By staying close to shore, the risk of sinking is reduced. (The word modified, boat, is not in the sentence.)
    • Improved: By staying close to shore, little boats reduce the risk of sinking.
  • Delayed subject --itor there is nearest the modifier but is not the word modified
    • Example: By staying close to shore, it is possible for little boats to reduce the risk of sinking. (It delays the appearance of the subject, boats, and reduces the clarity of the meaning.)
    • Improved: By staying close to shore, little boats reduce the risk of sinking.
more misplaced modifiers
More Misplaced Modifiers
  • Squinting modifiers
    • A modifier caught between two words, either of which might be the modified word
    • Example: Little boats sailingquicklyfound tar close to shore (Did the boats sail quickly or quickly find tar?)
    • Improved: When the little boats sailed near to shore, they quickly found tar.
  • Split infinitives (to + verb)
    • A modifier placed between to and the verb
    • Example: … to carefully stay close to shore….
    • Improved: …to stay carefully close to shore….
how to correct misplaced and dangling modifiers
How to Correct Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
  • The modifier should be positioned to give the correct meaning - usually near the word modified
  • Make the word modified obvious and not hidden or ambiguous
  • Don’t split infinitives
  • Recognize that modifiers can be misplaced or dangling and consult a guide when in doubt
exercises
Exercises
  • BP was sureby August the oil would be stopped. (squinting modifier -- Was BP sure by August or would the oil be stopped by August?)
  • BP was sure the oil would be stoppedby August.
  • Remembering that one can tell a cracked vessel by its sound, Tony Hayward stated to the press that he wanted his life back. (dangling modifier -- It was not Tony who remembered this expression.)
  • Remembering that one can tell a cracked vessel by its sound, I watched Tony Hayward state to the press that he wanted his life back.
exercises9
Exercises
  • Throwing pearls to swine, it was clear BP executives would not take the scientist’s advice. (delayed subject)
  • Throwing pearls to swine, the scientists gave BP executives advice that they would not take.
  • At the risk of being insensitive, he will get another date with me when hell freezes over. (misplaced modifier -- The speaker or writer is the one at risk of being insensitive.)
  • At the risk of being insensitive, I told him I would date him again when hell freezes over.
exercises10
Exercises
  • In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne had topublicly wear the red letter “A” to mark her as an adulterer. (split infinitive)
  • In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne had to wearpublicly the red letter “A” to mark her as an adulterer.
  • When her performance did not improve, Penny worked with Kelly Services to have the contractor replaced. (It was not Penny’s performance that was a problem.)
  • When the contractor’s performance did not improve, Penny worked with Kelly Services to have the contractor replaced. (added whose performance to the subordinate clause)
conclusion
Conclusion
  • Ensure clarity of meaning with modifiers
  • Locate the modifier near the word modified
  • Make the word modified obvious and not ambiguous
  • Seek assistance from references when in doubt!

References:

  • From the Writing Lab website: http://uwf.edu/writelab/advice/documents/wa-onjobgram8.htm
  • A Writer’s Reference, Diana Hacker
  • The Random House Handbook