When you begin a sentence with a modifying word or phrase, the subject of the sentence is what must be modified by that word or phrase. A “dangling modifier” is a phrase that does not clearly and sensibly modify the appropriate word.
EXAMPLE #1: Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, the Mustang seemed to run better.
The subject of this sentence is “the Mustang.” The modifying phrase is “Changing the oil . . .”
A Mustang cannot change its own oil. So you’d want to rewrite that as something like:
“Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, Sandra found she got much better gas mileage.”
EXAMPLE #2: Walking to work, the eucalyptus trees reminded Lynette of Brandilyn Collins’s latest novel.
The subject of this sentence is “the eucalyptus trees.” The modifier is “Walking to work . . .”
Eucalyptus trees don’t walk to work . . . not even in Brandilyn’s novels. So rewrite:
“As Lynette walked to work, the eucalyptus trees reminded her of Eyes of Elisha.”
EXAMPLE #3: Slamming on the brakes, the car swerved off the road.
Unless you’re Stephen King, the car in your story probably didn’t slam on its own brakes. So:
“Robin slammed on the brakes, and the car swerved off the road.” Or:
“When Robin slammed on the brakes, the car swerved off the road.”
EXAMPLE #4: Six months after attending the writers’ conference, Gail’s article was accepted by a publisher.
The subject of this sentence is “Gail’s article.”
“Gail’s article” did not attend the writers’ conference. So you’d want to rewrite to something like:
“Six months after Gail attended Mount Hermon, her article was accepted by a publisher.”
Be sure the action in the modifying phrase can be accomplished at the same time as the action in the rest of the sentence.
EXAMPLE: Hugging the postman, Delilah ripped open the box containing her new novel.
Delilah cannot simultaneously hug the postman and rip open a box. Reword to something like:
“After hugging the postman, Delilah ripped open the box containing her new novel.”
The position of a modifier determines what thing or action is being modified.
EXAMPLE #1: Sharon sent out a proposal for her book on living with horses last week.
Sharon’s proposal wasn’t for a book about “living with horses last week.” Reword:
“Last week Sharon sent out a proposal for her book on living with horses.”
EXAMPLE #2: The editor told me on Thursday I have a book signing.
Did the editor say this on Thursday, or do you have a book signing on Thursday?
“On Thursday, the editor told me I have a book signing.” Or:
“The editor told me I have a book signing on Thursday.”
Kathy Ide is a professional freelance editor who speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, January 2014). Kathy is also the founder and director of two organizations for editorial freelancers: The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network and the Christian Editor Network. Find out more about Kathy on her website.
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