Sunday, 1 June 2014

The dreaded dangling or misplaced modifer

Image courtesy of Don’t Dangle Your Participleby Vanita Oelschlager & Mike DeSantis, illustrator Vanita Books  5/01/2014  978-1-938164-02-6
I'm sure many of us have been guilty at one time or other of crafting a sentence that includes a dangling or misplaced modifier. Don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds. In fact, it can often result in quite a hilarious, but unintended meaning.

You've probably seen many signs in your travels that have caused you to pause and reflect on what you've just read. You know what I mean. Examples abound and include road signs that caution us about heavy pedestrian traffic or if our dog poos in the park to put it in the litter bin. The dog or the poo? And are we talking about overweight pedestrians or a large volume of pedestrian traffic. 

Take a look at the sentence in the image above. It should read: 

While riding his skateboard in the park, Lester almost ran into a deer. 

The way the sentence is constructed, the writer incorrectly implies the deer was riding the skateboard.

Sometimes it appears as though principles of grammar are complicated and tricky to learn. If we take the approach of tackling one concept at a time with the goal of mastering the application of each rule as it relates to the art of writing, navigating the fundaments of grammar becomes less arduous.

Simply put, dangling or misplaced modifiers refer to the incorrect placement of modifying words and phrases. To avoid making this mistake, place your modifiers as close as possible to the word they're modifying. If you focus on the exact meaning of what you're trying to convey, it will be easier to spot inadvertently placed modifiers. Here are a couple of examples: 

Dangling:    To drive safely, a good set of brakes is required.

Correct:       To drive safely, you need a good set of brakes.

Misplaced:  Graeme watched the moon rise from his hammock.

Correct:        From his hammock, Graeme watched the moon rise.

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