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Issue 8
March 2017
Nitpick
Nifty tips on how to write and speak more effectively
 
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Can you fix these dangling modifiers?
 
When I copy edit, I catch a lot of redundant words and misplaced apostrophes. But there’s another grammatical glitch that often worms its way into writing.

It’s the sometimes-comical dangling modifier.

Here’s what I mean by comical:

While preparing dinner, my cat kept staring at me.


Grilling steaks on the barbecue, the dog wouldn’t stop barking.

It’s too bad, but my cats don’t cook. And if I had a dog, I’m sure it wouldn’t be grilling steaks.

Dangling modifiers are illogical. They describe (modify) something or someone they’re not supposed to because of their place in a sentence, which is typically at the beginning.

So, let’s fix the above examples by identifying who the “doer” is in the dangling parts:

While I was preparing dinner, my cat kept staring at me.

While my friend was grilling steaks on the barbecue, the dog wouldn’t stop barking.

Here’s another example of a dangling modifier:

Caring and attentive, Karen’s counselling style is professional.

And a fix for it:

Caring and attentive, Karen has a professional counselling style.

In this example, it’s not Karen’s counselling style that’s caring and attentive — it’s Karen who is caring and attentive. You could also rewrite this sentence (and slightly alter its meaning) to read: Karen has a caring and attentive counselling style.
 


Test Yourself

Now, try your hand at fixing these dangling modifiers:

1. Jogging along the beach, the sunset was a brilliant orangey-pink.

2. A social media whiz, the marketing manager’s tweets are witty.

3. Overwhelmed by the unexpected turnout, an alternative plan was needed.

4. Bubbling with enthusiasm, her presentation captured the audience’s imagination.

5. Highly organized and motivated, Jack’s study habits are impressive.


Possible Fixes

1. While I was jogging along the beach, the sunset was a brilliant orangey-pink.

Or: The sunset was a brilliant orangey-pink as I jogged along the beach.

2. A social media whiz, the marketing manager posts witty tweets.

3. Overwhelmed by the unexpected turnout, the organizers needed an alternative plan.

4. Bubbling with enthusiasm, she captured the audience’s imagination with her presentation.

5. Highly organized and motivated, Jack has impressive study habits.
 
Have you spotted any quirky dangling modifiers lately? If so, share them with me!


Photo (above): © Can Stock Photo/focalpoint
 
 

 
 
Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist. She helps organizations tell their stories clearly, creatively and concisely.
Photo: Angela Durante Dukát, DUKÁT PHOTOS
 
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