Modifier Monday: Dangling Modifiers

Also see last week’s post on Squinting Modifiers.

A dangling modifier is one that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. Dangling modifiers are most often found at the beginning of a sentence, and they usually begin with a verbal. In the following examples, I have bolded the verbal and italicized the whole modifier so you can see what I mean:

Having gone on a long hike, water ran out.

After eating everything in the kitchen, a shopping trip was in order.

Coming home after a long day at work, a beer was necessary.

These sentences do not have a clear subject to which the dangling modifier belongs. There are two ways to fix them. The first is to add a subject to the modifier, turning it into a complete sentence:

When the group went on a long hike, water ran out.

After Suzie ate everything in the kitchen, a shopping trip was in order.

When Bill came home after a long day at work, a beer was necessary.

The second way to fix these sentences, which leaves the modifier intact, is to add the subject to the second part of the sentence like this:

Having gone on a long hike, the group ran out of water.

After eating everything in the kitchen, Suzie had to go grocery shopping.

Coming home after a long day at work, Bill felt that a beer was necessary.

The second solution is usually recommended since it makes the sentence active and more clearly answers the question of “who?” For instance, in the example where Suzie eats everything in the kitchen, the first solution doesn’t make it clear who has to go shopping. Of course, it could be that Suzie is a child whose mother does all the grocery shopping, in which case you could say, “after Suzie ate everything in the kitchen, a shopping trip was in order for her mother.” Context is always important.

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