Keep Your Modifiers in Place and Don’t Let Them Dangle

 

Writing this blog post, my phone rang.  A man selling cemetery plots with a husky voice was calling.

woman_on_cell_phone_3 gravestone

Okay, neither of those happened. But I thought they would serve as good examples. The first sentence is a dangling modifier; it insinuates my phone was writing this blog post (and it might do a better job than I, come to think of it). The second sentence is a misplaced modifier; the wording would lead you to believe the cemetery plots have a husky voice, which would, quite frankly, be a little scary, but pretty awesome.

The way to correct these would be:

My  phone rang while I was writing this blog post.

A man with a husky voice selling cemetery plots was calling.

As an editor, I run across a lot of dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers. My authors can attest to the fact that I do not care for these deceptive little devils. Although when a reader pauses and thinks about the sentence logically, he or she will most likely figure out its true meaning, as an author it is your job to make things easy for your reader. If taken out of your story to solve a puzzle, your reader might not dive back in. DM’s and MM’s (we’re so well-acquainted, I gave them nicknames) are misleading to a reader, sometimes confusing, and just plain wrong.

Here are more examples:

Dangling modifiers:

Driving away from the house, my heart ached. (Was my heart driving?)

Covered in daisies, the girl gazed at the hillside. (Was the girl covered in daisies? Okay, in this case, it’s possible, but not all that likely)

Eating a bowl of cereal, a mouse darted across the floor. (Was a mouse eating a bowl of cereal?)

 mouse

Misplaced modifiers:

Gym owner arrested for filming women as they showered on his cell phone. (Were the women showering on his cell phone?)

I heard it was going to snow on the news. (Is it really going to snow on the news?)

The boy played with the dog wearing his best suit. (Was the dog wearing his best suit? Again, that’s possible, since many pet owners dress their dogs, but it’s unlikely a dog would be foolish enough to play in his best suit)

dog_brown

So, as you are writing and/or editing your story, keep an eye out for sentences with unclear or out of place modifiers and reword if necessary. After all, with women showering on cell phones, girls covered in daisies, and mice eating cereal, you would be creating a world of mayhem and chaos.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

22 thoughts on “Keep Your Modifiers in Place and Don’t Let Them Dangle

  • ROTFL!

    This post kept me giggling from start to finish!! And now I’m mega paranoid that I’m guilty of something similar :D.

    I think as authors we fall into this little grammar mine as we’re trying to come up with creative ways to write our sentences. No one wants to write/read every sentence starting with He/She so we front load sentences and end up with dangling and misplaced modifiers sometimes.

    Thanks so much for reminding us to pay attention when we work to create dazzling sentences, and sparkling description!

    Great post, Alicia. I’m about to print it off and pin it to my study wall.

    • Odd. I answered this once. I’ll try again. 🙂 I believe both were correctly worded, so I will take the double compliment! Thanks!!!

  • Great examples, Alicia. Just in critiquing and judging contests, I see a lot of DMs and MMs, esp. the body parts that can think and remember. You did a good job of explaining it. Better than I can do.

    • Thank you, Linda! I appreciate the kind words. Yes, it seems authors don’t always realize how their wording is coming across. I’m probably guilty of these once in a while myself. I KNOW I’m guilty of a lot of other issues. 🙂

    • Hahaha. First drafts should be written freely, quickly, and crappily. Save worrying about things like this until the second draft. 🙂

  • This is one I know I am guilty of! The sentences make complete sense to me, their creator, so sometimes it’s hard to see when they can be confusing to my reader. When the scenes are coming tumbling out of your mind and on to the page quickly you are not looking at each sentence in isolation, and when you go back to edit, you know what your meaning is so you tend to overlook these troublemakers. I feel like such an idiot when an editor catches them because then the mistakes seem so obvious! Thanks for sharing, Alicia!

    • You’re welcome! Please, don’t feel like an idiot. It is VERY easy to overlook things that are obvious once they’re pointed out. I am an author and editor, and I have to have people point out my many mistakes. 🙂

  • Wonderful, helpful post. I spot these things so easily in other people’s writing, but they slip up on me in my own. I remember you catching some in The Last Daughter and I was so surprised and embarrassed. But … I’m sure I’ll make them again. 🙂 Thanks for the great examples. Hope your Christmas was everything you wanted it to be and then some!

    • Isn’t that the way it works, Jess? Too bad we can’t edit ourselves like we can others. You’re welcome and thank you! My Christmas was fabulous.

  • Great examples! My high school English teacher had a favorite that has stuck with me. He walked into class, drew an envelope on the blackboard, put a stick figure on it and gave it wings: Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope.

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