Writing Tip #5: Just Hanging Out: Dangling Modifiers

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Photo by Greg Hume

The phrase “dangling modifier” probably brings up bad flashbacks from your middle school grammar class, but it’s good to avoid this common mistake when writing. A dangling modifier occurs when we use a descriptive phrase that is not near the noun that it describes; or the noun is not present in the sentence.

Here are a few examples:

At the age of ten, my family moved to a new neighborhood.  (Your family was ten? Then your parents were … nine?)

Edited sentence: When I was ten, my family moved to a new neighborhood.

Running to catch the subway, my manuscript fell out of my backpack. (The manuscript was running for the D train?)

Edited sentence: As I ran to catch the subway, my manuscript fell out of my backpack.

Upon entering Jack’s apartment, his huge collection of albums caught my eye. (This implies that the albums entered the apartment.)

Edited sentence: As I entered Jack’s apartment, his huge collection of albums caught my eye.

Jack said yesterday he got his new guitar strings. (Did Jack say this yesterday, or did he get the strings yesterday?)

Edited sentence: Yesterday Jack got his new guitar strings.

I hope this helps to address the insidious problem of dangling modifiers.

Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a contemporary romance set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

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