Dangling modifiers are words or phrases that aren’t where the writer wanted them to be, because the writer wasn’t paying attention. They dangle, out of place, potentially confusing the reader and embarrassing the writer. Here are examples and suggested solutions:
• Despite having bald tires and a worn-out crankcase, I was able to sell the car. Grammatically, “bald tires and a worn-out crankcase” refer to “I,” the subject of the sentence. Solution: Despite the car’s bald tires and worn-out crankcase, I was able to sell it.
• As a popular fellow, my Facebook page gets numerous hits. The writer didn’t mean to call his Facebook page “a popular fellow,” but that’s what his sentence says. Solution: I’m so popular that my Facebook is constantly visited and liked.
• Gifted and beautiful, the crowds adore Rihanna. The crowds aren’t “gifted and beautiful” – the performer is. Solution: Gifted and beautiful, Rihanna is adored by millions.
• A songwriter of great talent, the fans felt ambivalent about Tom Waits’ voice. Grammatically, “songwriter of great talent” refers to the fans instead of Tom Waits. Solution: Although Bruce Springsteen did a more popular version of this song, Waits wrote it for his wife, and his gravelly voice gives it a certain authentic appeal.
With dangling modifiers, the writer always knows what he or she wants to say. Usually the reader can tell what the writer meant to say. Sometimes the reader doesn’t even notice the mistake – a lucky break for the careless writer.
But let’s face it: If you let a modifier dangle, you run the risk of looking dumb.