Author Topic: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers  (Read 20359 times)

Musushi-tamago

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Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
« on: July 19, 2009, 11:50:34 PM »
How exactly can these two be identified?

I know that a misplaced modifier is a modifier that modifies the wrong word. I also know that dangling modifiers are modifiers that don't logically fit in the sentence.

But when there is a given sentence, how can one identify if the modifier is misplaced or dangling?

For example, in the sentence "At the age of 5, uncle taught him how to play baseball." The modifier is "at the age of 5", but is it dangling or misplaced?

Any help would be appreciated.  :)

Joe Carillo

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When is a modifier misplaced and when is it dangling?
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2009, 03:30:16 AM »
How exactly can these two be identified?

I know that a misplaced modifier is a modifier that modifies the wrong word. I also know that dangling modifiers are modifiers that don't logically fit in the sentence.

But when there is a given sentence, how can one identify if the modifier is misplaced or dangling?

For example, in the sentence "At the age of 5, uncle taught him how to play baseball." The modifier is "at the age of 5", but is it dangling or misplaced?

Any help would be appreciated.  :)


Musushi-tamago’s question is actually a tough nut to crack, so to speak, for the problematic modifier in the sentence he has given looks like a cross—a borderline case—between a misplaced modifier and a dangling one. Indeed, it looks like the modifier “at the age of 5” is both a misplaced modifier and a dangling modifier.

To fully understand the problem with this particular modifying phrase, let’s first make a clear distinction between a misplaced modifier and a dangling modifier.

A misplaced modifier is a word or group of words positioned or attached to the sentence in the wrong place, or is not placed near enough to the word it’s supposed to modify, so its ends up modifying the wrong word.

The simplest example of a misplaced modifier is, of course, a wrongly positioned single-word modifier, as in this sentence: “The hunters almost shot all of the deer in the forest.” Because the adverb “almost” is positioned such that it modifies the verb “shot,” the impression is created that the hunters nearly shot all of the deer but changed their mind at the last minute, shooting none of them at all. Obviously, though, what is meant is that the hunters did shoot almost all of the deer—an idea that would have come out clearly if “almost” was positioned after the verb “shot.” It would then have unmistakably modified the phrase “all of the deer” instead, as in this sentence: “The hunters shot almost all of the deer in the forest.”

More often, though, particularly in spoken English, people tend to misplace an entire modifying phrase, as in this sentence: “Alicia borrowed a lawn mower from her neighbor with a loud wheezing sound.” What the speaker meant here, of course, is that it wasn’t her neighbor but the lawn mower that produced “a loud wheezing sound”—an idea that clearly emerges when the modifying phrase is positioned right after “lawn mower” in the sentence: “Alicia borrowed a lawn mower with a loud wheezing sound from her neighbor.”

To make you thoroughly familiar with misplaced modifiers, here are several other examples of sentences bedeviled by them:

“We learned that there was a total solar eclipse in the morning news.”

(Because the prepositional phrase “in the morning news” is misplaced in the sentence, it absurdly modifies the noun form “total solar eclipse” instead of the verb “learned.” Correct construction: ““We learned in the morning news that there was a total solar eclipse.”

“Teresa realized that she was mistaken in her judgment about the lone female job applicant while on her way out of the office.”  

(Positioning the modifying phrase “while on her way out of the office” at the tail end of the sentence makes it wrongly modify the wrong subject, “the lone female applicant”; on the contrary, that phrase should be modifying the noun “Teresa” instead. Correct construction: “While on her way out of the office, Teresa realized that she was mistaken in her judgment about the lone female job applicant.”)

“The woman was advised to see the doctor with a severe case of asthma.”

(Who would want to consult a doctor with a severe case of asthma? No one, of course, but then, it’s really the woman afflicted with the ailment and what we have here is a sentence suffering from a severe case of modifier misplacement. Correct construction: “The woman with a severe case of asthma was advised to see the doctor.”

Now, in contrast to a misplaced modifier, a dangling modifier is usually a phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence, and is often—but not always—located at the beginning of a sentence. A dangling modifier usually functions as an adjective but is unable to clearly modify a particular word in the sentence or, in the worst case, it ends up modifying the wrong word.

Here’s an example of a dangling modifier: “Contemplating what to do upon retirement, the prospect of running a coffee-and-doughnut shop took hold in Helen’s mind.” The phrase “contemplating what to do upon retirement” can’t seem to modify anything in the sentence; it just hangs there with no precise purpose—in other words, it’s dangling.

Usually, nothing less than a total rewrite is needed to fix a dangling modifier, as in this reconstruction of that problematic sentence: “As Helen contemplated what to do upon retirement, the prospect of running a coffee-and-doughnut shop took hold in her mind.” The objective in such total rewrites is to remove the dangle by grammatically and logically connecting the idea in the dangling modifier to its proper subject.

Here are a few other varieties of sentences with dangling modifiers:

Having grown up in the farm, it wasn’t surprising to be bewildered living in the city all so sudden.”

(The modifying phrase “having grown up in the farm” dangles because it couldn’t seem to find an appropriate subject to modify. The expletive “it” couldn’t be that subject, of course, and it couldn’t be “the city” either. In fact, the problem with the sentence is that it has no proper subject to begin with. The only way to get rid of the dangling modifier is to supply that subject and totally rewrite the sentence. Correct construction: “He grew up in the farm so it wasn’t surprising for him to be bewildered living in the city all so sudden.”)

Perched comfortably on the ledge of the resort hotel, the view of Taal Volcano down the lake was truly spectacular.”

(As in the case of the preceding example, the modifying phrase “perched comfortably on the ledge of the resort hotel” also dangles in the absence of an appropriate subject to modify. We have to supply that subject to fix the problem. Correct construction: “Perched comfortably on the ledge of the resort hotel, we beheld a truly spectacular view of Taal Volcano down the lake.”    

After reviewing the evidence in the case, the judgment rendered by the lower court was found to be incredibly inept.”
 
(The sentence doesn’t seem to make logical sense because the modifying phrase “after reviewing the evidence in the case” can’t find any subject in the sentence that it can modify. We need to supply that subject; we can use, say, the Court of Appeals. Correct construction: “After reviewing the evidence in the case, the Court of Appeals found the judgment rendered by the lower court incredibly inept.”)

Now that it’s clear in our mind what the differences are between misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers, we should be ready to decide whether the problematic modifier in this sentence sent in by Musushi-tamago is misplaced or dangling:

At the age of 5, uncle taught him how to play baseball.”

The phrase “at the age of 5” is clearly a dangling modifier here because it modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence, and having as it does the other telltale characteristic that it’s located at the very beginning of the sentence. It looks like a misplaced modifier because it seems to be wrongly modifying the noun “uncle,” but this is actually only the worst-case scenario for a dangling modifier—appearing to be modifying a wrong word when it actually doesn’t. Indeed, although the phrase “at the age of 5” is adjacent to the noun “uncle,” that phrase couldn’t really modify “uncle,” for it would be absurd for someone only 5 years old to be an uncle. And from a grammatical standpoint, neither could the subject of that modifying phrase be the pronoun “him,” for it’s not in the subjective case but in the objective case. (Remember that as a general rule, only pronouns in the nominative or subjective case can be modified by an adjective or adjectival phrase.)

Having determined that “at the age of 5” is a dangler in that sentence, what’s left for us to do is to take out that dangle. To achieve this, we need to rewrite the sentence in a manner that puts the objective pronoun “him” in its subjective form “he” so it can become a legitimate subject of the modifying phrase.

Here’s one rewrite that fulfills that grammatical condition:

At the age of 5, he was taught by his uncle how to play baseball.”

NOW WATCH ROBOTIC ALBERT EINSTEIN EXPLAIN MISPLACED MODIFIERS:
Grammar Video on Misplaced & Dangling Modifiers
« Last Edit: December 26, 2016, 12:17:26 PM by Joe Carillo »

Spreen

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Re: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2009, 12:16:39 AM »
Wan mei (Perfect)! :) ;) :D