We’ve all heard the term “dangling modifier,” but what is a dangling modifier?
A dangling modifier is a misplaced phrase that seems, inappropriately, to modify a sentence, usually because you have written the sentence in a passive tense or left out the object of the phrase. It’s called a “dangling” modifier because it’s left dangling in the sentence, its object nowhere to be seen.
For example, if I write,
Turning the corner, the hermit’s hut was before me,
then the phrase “turning the corner” appears to modify “the hermit’s hut.” The sentence reads as if the hermit’s hut did the corner-turning!
How would I fix this? Follow the dangling modifier up with a reference to the person, animal, object, or what have you that the modifier is about. For example, I would fix my above example in this way:
Turning the corner, I saw the hermit’s hut before me.
I rewrote the sentence in an active voice, and I also immediately followed the action of turning the corner with a reference to the character who turned the corner.
Let’s try another example:
Listing to one side, the wake of the great sea serpent rocked the longship.
Is the wake of the sea serpent listing to the side? No, the longship is, but you wouldn’t know this from the example.
To fix it, once again I must follow the introductory phrase with its object.
Listing to one side, the longship rocked in the wake of the sea serpent.
As usual, don’t worry about dangling modifiers as you’re drafting, but when you’re rewriting and revising, keep a lookout for these suckers. Their comical effect can ruin an otherwise good piece of writing.