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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

Grammar Handbook: Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a phrase or clause that does not connect grammatically with what it is intended to modify. The problem is most common with adjective participial phrases, especially when they open the sentence. Such open participial phrases can be taken to modify the noun, but when the noun is not present in the sentence, then the phrase becomes nonsensical.

Problems with Dangling Modifiers

There are two kinds of problems with dangling modifiers:

  1. A word (often a pronoun) has been left out, so that the introductory phrase does not complement what follows.
    • Unclear: Running across the street, the bus left.
  2. A phrase or word in a sentence is too far from the idea that it modifies.
    • Unclear: A dependable car, the family decided to buy the mini-van.

Correcting the Problems

There are two ways to correct dangling modifiers.

  1. The main clause can be left alone and the participial construction altered, usually to an adverbial phrase.
    • Unclear: Running down the street, the house was on fire.
    • Revised: When the man ran down the street, the house was on fire.
  2. The participial construction can be allowed to stand and the main clause modified so that the modified object is in the subject position.
    • Revised: Running down the street, the man saw the house was on fire.