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December 29, 2009 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – Darling, Your Modifiers are Dangling …

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction.” Calm thyselves down, class. Please – we are as usual on a very tight four to five minute blog-hoppers’ attention span schedule, and there is much to cover. Desist with the gossiping, stop flirting, turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the twittering, get your faces out of Facebook, adjust your monitors, straighten your undies, have a seat and pay close attention. Ill not tolerate any of your typically intolerable behavior today.

Thank you kindly. That’s better. In this session we will address modifiers, and how to not leave them dangling. What is a dangling modifier? I thought you might ask. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept. Here’s an example of a correctly used modifier.

Having completed the homework, Mary used her cell phone next to talk with her best friend about boys.

“Having completed” states an action but does not name the doer of that action. The doer must be the subject of the main clause that follows. In this example it is Mary, and, since she seems logically to be the one doing the action (“having completed”), this sentence does not have a dangling modifier.

The following sentence has an incorrect usage:

Having completed the homework, the cell phone was next to be used, to talk with a best friend about boys.

“Having completed” is a participle expressing action, but the doer is not the cell phone (the subject of the main clause): cell phones do not finish assignments, nor do they talk about boys. Since the doer of the action expressed in the participle has not been clearly stated, the participial phrase is considered to be a dangling modifier.

Confused yet? Not to worry. Here are some strategies for revising dangling modifiers:

1. Name the appropriate or logical doer of the action as the subject of the main clause:

Having arrived late for class, a written excuse was needed.

Who arrived late? This sentence says that the written excuse arrived late. To correct, decide who arrived late. One possible revision might read like this:

Having arrived late for class, John was required to provide Professor Old Silly with a written excuse.

The main clause now names the person (John) who did the action in the modifying phrase (arrived late).

2. Change the phrase that dangles into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer of the action in that clause:

Without knowing her guest’s name, it felt uncomfortable to try and strike up a conversation with him.

Who didn’t know his name? This sentence says that “it” didn’t know his name and felt uncomfortable. To correct, decide who was uncomfortable striking up a conversation with him. Like this, for instance:

Because Mary did not know her guest’s name, it felt uncomfortable to try and stike up a conversation with him.

Now there is a complete introductory clause; since it does not modify any other part of the sentence, it is not considered “dangling.”

3. Combine the phrase and main clause into one:

To improve his performance, the procedure was repeated.

Who wanted to improve performance? This sentence says that the performance was trying to improve itself. To correct, combine the phrase and the main clause into one sentence. Like this:

He improved his performance by repeating the procedure.

Let’s look at three more examples of dangling modifiers and their correct revisions-

Wrong: Upon studying the article, the data remains unconvincing.

Right: Upon studying the article, John found the data unconvincing.

Wrong: After leaving work, your castle should be a refuge.

Right: After leaving work, you should be able to take refuge in your castle.

Incorrect: The experiment was a failure, not having studied the lab manual carefully.

Revised: They failed the experiment, not having studied the lab manual carefully.

All right, short class today, there is more to cover on this topic but I have another important, hot spicy tea date with Ms. Flanders in the teacher’s lounge, so I’ll just …

What’s that? Where is everybody? And what’s this someone left on my desk?

Oh good lord, class – dangling modifiers are not such a major issue as to get so all upset over and go and hang yourself!


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Leave a Comment
  1. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Dec 29 2009 6:17 am

    Excellent tutorial, Professor Marvin! I’ve tweeted it…

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Crystal Clear Proofing / Dec 29 2009 7:53 am

    GOOD ONE!!!

    • theoldsilly / Dec 29 2009 11:32 am

      Well coming from a pro like you, I’s say that’s quite a compliment – thank you!

  3. Terry Odell / Dec 29 2009 9:12 am

    I am the Queen! I created a neck machine that gave neck massages.

  4. ReformingGeek / Dec 29 2009 10:16 am

    Reffie forgot her essay. Old Silly sent her outside with the noose.

    Good job, Marivin.

  5. Karen Walker / Dec 29 2009 10:52 am

    Hey there,
    This is great. I knew the term, but wasn’t clear about it’s meaning. Thanks.

  6. Ron Berry / Dec 29 2009 11:15 am

    Thanks old silly. That clears up an area that did have me confused.

  7. quirkyloon / Dec 29 2009 11:20 am

    Dangle what?

    Things are definitely getting “spicy” around here.

    Hee hee

    • theoldsilly / Dec 29 2009 11:33 am

      Sigh, every class has its class clown. Now stop dangling around and get your homework done, Quirks! 😉

  8. Cactus Annie / Dec 29 2009 11:22 am

    Hm – never knew what all those “dangling” thingies were, but this was quite clear – thanks, Prof Old Silly!

  9. Mason Canyon / Dec 29 2009 11:31 am

    Such good information right here before a holiday break. Can we remember it? Oh, I hope so. Great class professor. Enjoy your tea.

  10. Michelle / Dec 29 2009 11:35 am

    Hello Marvin and thank you for this comprehensive and important lesson on modifiers and dangling participles. I am sure I needed some help with both! 🙂


  11. Barbra Kelser / Dec 29 2009 12:04 pm

    So THAT’s what a “dangling” modifier is. I’m with Quirkyloon – sounds kinda spicy and sexy – lol. Good class today, Old Silly, and I even stayed to the end!

  12. tdryden1 / Dec 29 2009 12:13 pm

    Okay, okay, are the lessons related to my work???? I guess I give you some great ideas huh???

    Wonderful class!! I really do pay attention, don’t know if I will remember but I do listen!!!

    • theoldsilly / Dec 29 2009 12:17 pm

      Feeling self conscious are we, hmm? LOL, no, hon, I’m not singling YOU out. You can find dangling modifiers in best selling books by famous authors. It’s a subtle distinction that even the best miss sometimes. These classes are just as much for ME as for anyone – you know what they say, “the best way to learn something is to teach it.” 😉

      • tdryden1 / Dec 29 2009 12:34 pm

        Absolutely!!! I just love these classes…
        You know I need lots of learning!!! Love it!

        Oh, are you reading my blog?????

  13. tdryden1 / Dec 29 2009 12:15 pm

    Tweeted and commented!!!
    Have a wonderful day, can’t wait til next week!

  14. MadMadMargo / Dec 29 2009 12:42 pm

    Thank you, Professor, for a wonderful lesson. I can’t wait until we get to onamonapea.

  15. Elspeth Antonelli / Dec 29 2009 2:47 pm

    Oh dear, this will take review. I’m bookmarking your wonderful post for further study. Thanks for the lesson, Old Silly.


  16. L. Diane Wolfe / Dec 29 2009 3:25 pm

    Maybe the written excuse DID arrive late for class! LOL

  17. Marcus Franks / Dec 29 2009 3:40 pm

    Sigh, I still don’t think I get it, lol. Well maybe – but glad I’m just a reader and I can leave this techie stuff up to you writers. But entertaining class, Old Silly! 😉

  18. yvonne lewis / Dec 29 2009 4:12 pm

    Good lesson, good teacher.


  19. Helen Ginger / Dec 29 2009 4:41 pm

    No, no, no…the noose was a gift for you. You can use it as a visual example of “dangling.”

    Straight From Hel

    • theoldsilly / Dec 29 2009 4:43 pm

      Hmph – might’ve KNOWN it was you left the noose! You march right down to the Principle’s Office, young lady! 😉

  20. tashabud / Dec 29 2009 5:25 pm

    You made it look so easy. I only wish I can figure it on my own. Thanks prof.

  21. Stanley Berber / Dec 29 2009 6:05 pm

    It wasn’t Helen – she did put me up to it, but it was ME left the noose on your desk. (snikcer). LOL – hey, fun way of doing tutoring classes, Marv!

  22. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Dec 29 2009 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the tip! Some parts I just don’t like dangling – if you know what I mean!

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