Dangling Modifiers Don’t Have the Right Word to Modify

by | Writing

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Two weeks ago, I gave examples of misplaced modifiers. Today we’ll look at examples of dangling modifiers: phrases or clauses that are not logically related to the words they modify. They jar and confuse readers.

Participial phrases can be dangling modifiers. Watch out for those -ing verb forms.


1. Confusing: Listening for the cat, the feline scratched the door.

This says the feline was listening for the cat. Unlike misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers take more work to fix.

Clear: While I listened for the cat, the feline scratched the door.

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2. Confusing: Taking photos of the barn, my camera fell into manure.

Here, my camera was taking photos of the barn.

Clear: I snapped photos of the barn. When I stumbled, I dropped my camera, and it fell into manure.

3. Confusing:  Looking at the sea, a ship battled the waves.

This sounds like the ship looked at the sea.

Clear:  Jim looked at the sea. A ship battled the waves.

Not all Dangling modifiers are participial phrases. Sometimes adjectives have no noun or pronoun to modify.


1. Confusing: Tired, the bed was inviting.

Because no person is mentioned, the bed was tired?

 Clear:  Tired, I wanted to crawl under the bed’s covers.

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2. Confusing: Wary, guns were drawn.

Hmm. Guns were wary.

Clear:  Wary, police officers unholstered their guns.

Or how about an adverbial phrase.

3. Confusing: After a few unsteady steps, the dish flew from Gordon’s hand.

Here, the dish took a few unsteady steps.

Clear: After a few unsteady steps, Gordon tripped, and the dish he held flew from his hand.

Opening modifying phrases need to have something to modify in a sentence, or they modify something else.

Can you share a humorous example of a dangling modifier?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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