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What is a Modifier?

A modifier is a phrase, word, or clause that alters, limits, adds, or in some other way affects another word present in a sentence. In logically-built sentences, one can find a modifier in front or behind the words that are being described by them.

E.g. As far as I remember, my numerous and strange uncles had an impact on the way I had been raised.

In this example, numerous and strange precede the noun uncles and modify it by specifying certain qualities of this word.

What is a Dangling Modifier?

When a writer has included a modifying word or phrase, but has forgotten about the target word to which it should be applied with, it is fair to speak of a dangling modifier. In this case, a modifier is associated with a word that is different from the one the author meant, or with no word at all.

Key Points to Consider

– Rather often, dangling modifiers occur in sentences with participle clauses.
– Non-participle dangling modifiers are difficult to notice; sometimes they can be useful, as they help to create a humorous effect.
E.g. I was chasing that dog in my pajamas. In my pajamas here refers to I, not to the dog.

Examples of Dangling Modifiers

With disappointment, the new smartphone was returned back to the shop.

This sentence does not mention a person who has been disappointed by the need to return the phone; since neither a phone nor a shop cannot be disappointed, and there are no other target words to which the modifier could be applied to, this is an example of a dangling modifier.

Correct would be to say: “With disappointment, Jack returned his new smartphone back to the shop.”

Hoping to look better, her parents were displeased with my outfit.

Hoping to look better can be misinterpreted to be related to her parents, whereas it should be applied to a missed target word or phrase. The correct sentence could look like this: “Hoping to look better, I wore my new hat, but my girlfriend’s parents were displeased with my outfit.”

– Turning left, a house where Jack lived could be seen.

This is a dangling modifier because turning left should describe actions or the behavior of a person, which is not mentioned in the sentence.

The correct sentence could look like: “Turning left, I saw the house where Jack lived.”

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