A weekly grammar tip created by Academic Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
3007 N. Ben Wilson
Victoria, TX 77901
Dangling Modifier Chronicles
Part I: Identifying Dangling Modifiers
Take a look at this
Ex. While driving to school, a squirrel ran up the
tree on the passengerís side of Joeís car.
What is it trying to say? As it is written now, the
sentence suggests the squirrel is driving to school and the tree is growing on the
car! But logically, we know that doesnít make sense.
As readers, we have to take time to figure out what
the writer was really trying to say. Unless
squirrels are issued licenses now, it must have been
Joe driving to school.
This confusing sentence example contains a grammar
problem known as a dangling modifier, a word or
phrase that does not clearly modify another word or
word group in a sentence. Dangling modifiers can be
difficult problems to deal with, particularly if you
donít know if you have written one.
So, how do you know if your sentence contains a
dangling modifier? One clue to look for is a
participle, a verb that may function as part of a
verb phrase or as a modifier. Usually dangling
modifiers occur when this verb acting as an
adjective does not refer logically to the subject of
the sentence, like the squirrel driving to school.
A corrected version
of our sample sentence follows: As Joe was driving
to school, he glanced out of the passenger window
and saw a squirrel run up a tree.
Letís try some examples. Is there a dangling
modifier in the following sentences?
- On the way home
from work, the radio played great music for Tom.
Yes: The radio was on its way home from work?
- While climbing
to a height of 4000 feet, my chest began to
Yes: Climbing is a participle here. My
chest climbed to a height of 4000 feet?
- Because it is
early in the semester, my homework load has been
No, this sentence is correct. Remember, a dangling
modifier is usually a participle. Because the
verb is cannot act as an adjective, Because
it is early in the semester does make sense
when it refers to the subject my homework.
- Coloring the
pages with glitter crayons, the pictures seemed
to come alive on the paper.
Yes: Coloring is a participle here.
The pictures were coloring the pages with
- Although I
arrived late, the presentation had not begun
No, this sentence is correct. With I, the
dangling modifier error is avoided, and the two
clauses do make sense together.
In episode two of the
Dangling Modifier Chronicles, we'll discuss
different strategies for fixing dangling modifiers.
is a peer writing tutor at the University of
Houston-Victoria and an education major. She began working
in the Academic Center in spring 2008 and is CRLA certified
at level three. She enjoys spending time with her friends,
family, and her silly miniature schnauzer Dixie.
Dangling Modifiers (2004). Purdue University Online
Writing Lab. Retrieved September 9, 2008.
Glenn, C. & Gray, L. Hodgesí Harbrace Handbook (16th Ed.)
Masterson, Lee (2005).
Dangling Modifiers. Fiction Factor. Retrieved September
the following sentences, determine if there is a
To enter the
contest, five dollars must be sent with your
While heating the
main dish, soup and salad was served.
When Steve removed
the food, his dog began to whine.
Yes, the phrase to
enter the contest is a dangling modifier in
this sentence. Five dollars
entered the contest? Note that you also need to be
careful about the infinitive to enter. An
infinitive can function as a noun, adjective, or
adverb, depending on its place and usage in the
sentence, meaning an infinitive can produce
dangling modifiers just as participles
Yes, the phase
while heating the main dish is a dangling
modifier. Heating is
a participle here. Soup and salad
heated the main dish?
This sentence is
correct. With the noun Steve, the dangling
modifier error is avoided, and the two clauses do
make sense together.