Modifiers: Misplaced and Dangling
Communicating ideas is difficult enough without confusing the audience. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers cause confusion.
Exactly as its name suggests, the MisMod is just out of place. A simple fix: move it.
John found a green boy’s sweater.
What’s green? The boy? No, we haven’t found a troll. The sweater? Yes!
- simple > the adjective swap > “boy’s green sweater”
- simple > the prepositional phrase swap > “I mopped the garage with my brother.” No, I didn’t dip his head in the bucket, turn him upside down, and mop the floor. “My brother and I. . . .”
- not so simple > the adverb swap. Be careful with adverbs. While they can move around in the sentence, they can change meaning.
“Only John and Alice went to the cemetery at night.” :: the only ones to go
“John and Alice only went . . . .” :: the only place to go
“J and A went only . . . .” :: sounds like the previous one, but this position suggests that other options were available.
“J & A . . . the only cemetery at night.” :: This town has only one cemetery. BTW, this use of only is an adjective, not an adverb.
“J & A . . . at night only.” :: because they like to hang out with ghouls.
The DangMod is more than out of place. We have to add / subtract / divide / multiply?
A not-so-simple fix, the DangMod may hide from us. We know what we intend to say. As we write, as we edit, as we run through the final proof, we may never see the DangMod.
Only rarely have I noticed a writing software’s grammar/spelling checker spotting the DangMod for your judgment to correct or not.
First Readers may not spot it, either. However, some readers of published writing will spot it and inform us. Dang it. Be nice. Thank them. Point out the DangMod is dang hard to spot, and correct it in your document. Keep a chart of errors. When you’ve corrected enough to have the original document substantially better, upload the new version.
What do DangMods look like?
Several moose were seen while traveling by car through New Brunswick, Canada.
How does this dangle? 1] Who saw the moose? 2] Who was traveling?
While traveling by car through NB, CAN, several moose were seen. This sentence is still NOT correct.
The moose are not seeing themselves. They still are not driving. Their antlers aren’t sticking out the car windows.
This extreme example helps point out the very problem with DangMods: the act-er (subject) of the verbs to see and to travel is missing.
While we were traveling . . . we saw several moose.
After loading the dishwasher, the video gaming continued. >> Who loaded it? Who was gaming?
Upsetting the neighbors, the fireworks were set off early. >> Who upset the neighbors? Who set off the pyrotechnic display?
Careful reading of exactly what we have written will help us avoid the MisMods and those DangMods.
The Crux of the Argument
Proofreading our work is never fun. After we’re past the thrill of character and situation, after we’ve paced the plot and twisted the scenes to avoid the humdrum, after we’ve tracked symbolic images and tweaked the archetypes, yet another read of the manuscript offers no excitement. Checking sentences and word use and punctuation is an especially oh-hum yawn-worthy task.
Yet we want to present the best possible product to our audience. We paint our portraits with words. Our words should carry the energy that our story needs. That last proofread is crucial.
How do we do it?
- Most people advise checking for spelling by reading backwards, word by word.
- Since we’ve been concerned primarily with sentences, I advise reading backwards, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. We get the context and can still spot punctuation and spelling.
Awareness alone is often enough to solve the problem. As we become aware of our stumbling blocks, we learn to check for them.
Avoid the dangs. Proofread. Troll for the grammar trolls.