Business Writing

Dangling modifiers

What is a dangling modifier? And if we don’t know what they are, are they really so important?

When it comes to writing well it is important to get rid of dangling modifiers. I suggest you find out what they are, then seek them out and remove them.

I hope this post will help.

What is a modifier?

Before I talk about the problematic dangling ones, it’s important to know what a modifier is. In short, it is a word that modifies something. It changes something. And it does it in different ways. It may:

  • Add some extra information about something
  • Clarify something
  • Describe something

Modifiers work best when they are close to the words they are modifying. Modifiers can be words that we classify as adjectives or adverbs, or they can be phrases. It’s when they are phrases that we may encounter the dangling modifier.

What is a dangling modifier?

Quite simply a dangling modifier is one where it isn’t clearwhich word is being modified. The best way to show you what I mean is with an example.

  • As a new member, I would like to welcome you to this committee.

When you look at this example, it suggests that ‘I’ am the new member. The sentence should read:

  • I would like to welcome you to this committee as a new member.

Here’s another example.

  • Looking through the campaign materials, the beautiful images make me believe that this campaign will inspire our clients.

Of course the beautiful images are not looking through the campaign materials. This sentence should read:

  • Looking through the beautiful images included in the campaign materials, I believe that this campaign will inspire our clients.

As we write, our thoughts wander and it’s easy to put a modifier in the wrong place. And you can’t rely on your grammar checker. It’s unlikely to pick up this type of error.

Just for a laugh

To demonstrate the problems, and the unintentional humour that can arise, I’ve included the following example sentences from The Little Green Grammar Book, by Mark Tredinnick.

Never refresh vegetables that you aren’t going to eat immediately under water as it takes away the flavour.

We make recommendations for fixing all the problems in this report.

Before she’d even finished laying, Lucy chased the hen out of the coop.