Self Teaching Unit:
Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
©t 2000, 1999, 1998, 1998 Margaret L. Benner
The link is acknowledged below
A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies / describes.
Because of the separation, sentences with this error often sound awkward, ridiculous, or confusing. Furthermore, they can be downright illogical.
For example: On her way home, Shazia found a gold man's watch.
The example above suggests that a gold man owns a watch.
Misplaced modifiers can usually be corrected by moving the modifier to a more sensible place in the sentence, generally next to the word it modifies.
For example: On her way home, Shazia found a man's gold watch.
Now it is the watch that is gold.
There are several kinds of misplaced modifiers:
1. Misplaced adjectives are incorrectly separated from the nouns they modify and almost always distort the intended meaning.
Example 1: The child ate a cold dish of cereal for breakfast this morning.
Correct the error by placing the adjective next to the noun it modifies.
The child ate a dish of cold cereal for breakfast this morning.
Example 2: The torn student's book lay on the desk.
Corrected: The student's torn book lay on the desk.
Sentences like these are common in everyday speech and ordinarily cause their listeners no trouble. However, they are quite imprecise and, therefore, should have NO place in your writing.
2. Placement of adverbs can also change meaning in sentences.
For example, the sentences below illustrate how the placement of just can change the sentence's meaning.
Just means only John was picked, no one else:
Just John was picked to host the program.
Just means that John was picked now:
John was just picked to host the program.
Just means that John hosted only the program, nothing else:
John was picked to host Just the program.
Each of these sentences says something logical but quite different, and its correctness depends upon what the writer has in mind.
Often, misplacing an adverb not only alters the intended meaning, but also creates a sentence whose meaning is highly unlikely or completely ridiculous.
This sentence, for example, suggests that we brought a lunch slowly:
We ate the lunch that we had brought slowly.
To repair the meaning, move the adverb slowly so that it is near ate.
We slowly ate the lunch that we had brought.
3. Misplaced phrases may cause a sentence to sound awkward and may create a meaning that does not make sense.
The problem sentences below contain misplaced phrases that modify the wrong nouns.
To fix the errors and clarify the meaning, put the phrases next to the noun they are supposed to modify.
Example (a corner smoking pipes?)
The three bankers talked quietly in the corner smoking pipes.
Corrected: The three bankers smoking pipes talked quietly in the corner.
Example (a house made of barbed wire?)
They saw a fence behind the house made of barbed wire.
Corrected: They saw a fence made of barbed wire behind the house.
4. Misplaced clauses may cause a sentence to sound awkward and may create a meaning that does not make sense.
The problem sentences below contain misplaced clauses that modify the wrong nouns.
To fix the errors and clarify the meaning, put the clauses next to the noun they are supposed to modify.
Example 1 ( a buttered woman?)
The waiter served a dinner roll to the woman that was well buttered.
Corrected: The waiter served a dinner roll that was well buttered to the woman.
Be careful! In correcting a misplaced modifier, don't create a sentence with two possible meanings.
Example: The teacher said on Monday she would return our essays.
Problem: Did the teacher say this on Monday or will she return the essays on Monday?)
Correction #1 (meaning the essays will be returned on Monday)
The teacher said she would return our essays on Monday.
Correction #2 (meaning that the teacher spoke on Monday)
On Monday the teacher said she would return our essays.