Writing for the Web: Clarity 6/7

Check Sentences for Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Of all grammatical errors, misplaced and dangling modifiers cause the most hilartity. Let’s face it, they’re just plain fun (as long as it’s not you who writes them). In the words of Groucho Marx, “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”

  • A misplaced modifier is confusing because, although the modifier may be correct, it’s modifying the wrong word in the sentence.”We almost ate all the turkey” is confusing because it’s not possible to “almost eat” something. The correction is, “We ate almost all the turkey”.
  • A dangling modifier is confusing because the doer of the action is unclear. “After waiting for three hours, the train left the station.” Who did the waiting—you or the train? It’s not clear.

Another example: “It wasn’t long before the two got engaged, lived in several Canadian cities, pursued their separate career paths and explored their new surroundings while weighing the pros and cons of each.”

What are they weighing the pros and cons of?

  • Their surroundings
  • Their separate career paths
  • Several Canadian cities
  • Their engagement
  • All of the above