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Subsection 7.2.4 Problems with Modifiers

Subsubsection Misplaced Modifiers

While modifiers can be extremely useful for spicing up sentences, they can sometimes be misplaced too far from the noun they are intending to describe. These misplaced modifiers not only make the sentence confusing to read; they also may actually end up describing something they're not supposed to describe. For instance, take the following sentence:

“Towering above the heads of the students, we gazed in awe up at the sequoia tree.”

In this sentence, “towering above the heads of the students” is a participial phrase (see participial phrase). However, it's currently being used to describe the pronoun “we.” Unless “we” are giants, this sentence doesn't make much sense; how can “we” tower above the heads of students? Instead, the participial phrase is likely intended to describe the sequoia tree. Consider a revision that places the modifier next to the noun it describes:

“We gazed in awe up at the sequoia tree towering above the heads of the students.”

Here are a few more examples of misplaced modifiers and their possible revisions:

Example 7.2.35. Misplaced Modifier: Tired Liam.

“Liam sprinted up the staircase to his class on the top floor of McIntyre, which was steep and exhausting.”

The placement of this modifier makes it seem like the top floor of McIntyre is “steep and exhausting.”

Revision:

“Liam sprinted up the staircase, which was steep and exhausting, to his class on the top floor of McIntyre.”

Example 7.2.36. Misplaced Modifier: Dogs of Puget Sound.

“Whining pleadingly, the owner tried to restrain the dog from jumping excitedly into Jones Fountain.”

This sentence makes it seem like the owner was the one “whining pleadingly,” not the dog!

Revision:

“The owner tried to restrain the dog, which was whining pleadingly, from jumping excitedly into Jones Fountain.”

Subsubsection Dangling Modifiers

In addition to misplaced modifiers, a dangling modifier describes a noun that is either unclear or absent from the sentence altogether. In these cases, the modifier ends up modifying something else in the sentence that should not be modified. For instance, take the following sentence:

“After writing for hours in the library, the paper was finally finished.”

In this sentence, “after writing for hours” is a participle phrase modifying “the paper.” But a paper can't write itself! Instead, the participle phrase should modify the subject doing the action (in this case, the student writing the paper):

“After writing for hours in Collins Memorial Library, the exhausted student finally finished their paper.”

Here are a few more examples of dangling modifiers and their possible revisions:

Example 7.2.37. Dangling Modifier: Lost in Wyatt.

“Unfamiliar with the campus layout, it was difficult to find their classroom in McIntyre.”

This sentence is confusing because the modifier, “Unfamiliar with the campus layout,” is modifying a noun that doesn't exist. To fix this problem, we need to add a noun.

Revision:

“Unfamiliar with the campus layout, the first-year student found it difficult to find their classroom in McIntyre.”

Example 7.2.38. Dangling Modifier: Method Madness.

“After reviewing the scholarly article, the author's methods appear questionable.”

The modifier, “After reviewing the scholarly article,” is trying to modify an absent noun.

Revision:

“After reviewing the scholarly article, I find the author's methods questionable.”