Self Teaching Unit:
Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
Â©t 2000, 1999, 1998, 1998 Margaret L. Benner
A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies / describes.
Because of the separation, sentences with this error often sound awkward, ridiculous, or confusing. Furthermore, they can be downright illogical.
The example above suggests that a gold man owns a watch.
Misplaced modifiers can usually be corrected by moving the modifier to a more sensible place in the sentence, generally next to the word it modifies.
Now it is the watch that is gold.
There are several kinds of misplaced modifiers:
1. Misplaced adjectives are incorrectly separated from the nouns they modify and almost always distort the intended meaning.
Correct the error by placing the adjective next to the noun it modifies.
Sentences like these are common in everyday speech and ordinarily cause their listeners no trouble. However, they are quite imprecise and, therefore,should have NO place in your writing.
2. Placement of adverbs can also change meaning in sentences.
Just means only John was picked, no one else:
Just means that John was picked now:
means that John hosted only the program, nothing else:
Each of these sentences says something logical but quite different, and its correctness depends upon what the writer has in mind.
Often, misplacinganadverb not only alters the intended meaning, but also creates a sentence whose meaning is highly unlikely or completely ridiculous.
This sentence, for example, suggests that we brought a lunch slowly:
To repair the meaning, move the adverb slowly so that it is near ate.
Watch out for adverbs such as only, just, nearly, merely, and almost. They are often misplaced and cause an unintended meaning.
This sentence, for example, means that I only contributed the money:
Repaired, however, the sentence means that I contributed only $10.00.
Like adjectives, adverbs are commonly misplaced in everyday speech, and may not cause listeners difficulty. However, such sentences are quite imprecise and, therefore, should have NO place in your writing.
Now click on the link below to complete Exercise 1.
3.Misplaced phrases may cause a sentence to sound awkward and may create a meaning that does not make sense.
The problem sentences below contain misplaced phrases that modify the wrong nouns.
To fix the errors and clarify the meaning, put the phrases next to the noun they are supposed to modify.
Example 1 (a buyer with leather seats?)
Example 2 (a corner smoking pipes?)
Example 3 (a house made of barbed wire?)
Click on the link below to complete Exercise 2.
Link to Exercise 2
Misplaced clauses may cause a sentence to sound awkward and may create a meaning that does not make sense.
The problem sentences below contain misplaced clauses that modify the wrong nouns.
To fix the errors and clarify the meaning, put the clauses next to the noun they are supposed to modify.
Example 2 (a hamper that Ralph wore?)
Be careful! In correcting a misplaced modifier, don't create a sentence with two possible meanings.
Problem: Did the teacher say this on Monday or will she return the essays on Monday?)
Link to Exercise 3
A dangling modifier is a phrase or clause that is not clearly and logically related to the word or words it modifies (i.e. is placed next to).
Two notes about dangling modifiers:
Unlike a misplaced modifier, a dangling modifier cannot be corrected by simply moving it to a different place in a sentence.
In most cases, the dangling modifier appears at the beginning of the sentence, although it can also come at the end.
Sometimes the dangling modifier error occurs because the sentence fails to specify anything to which the modifier can refer.
This sentence does not specify who is looking toward the west. In fact, there is nothing at all in the sentence to which the modifying phrase looking toward the west can logically refer. Since the modifier, looking toward the west, is sitting next to the funnel shaped cloud, the sentence suggests that the cloud is doing the looking.
This sentence means that my mother enrolled in medical when she was nine years old!
At other times the dangling modifier is placed next to the wrong noun or noun substitute.
Because of the placement of walking to the movies, this sentence suggests that the cloudburstis walking to the movieseven though a possible walker - Jim - is mentioned later.
Since having been fixed the night beforeis placed next to Priscilla, the sentence means that Priscilla was fixed the night before.
How to correct dangling modifiers
Dangling modifiers may be corrected in two general ways.
Correction Method #1
Leave the modifier as it is.
Change the main part of the sentence so that it begins with the term actually modified.
This change will put the modifier next to the term it modifies.
Thus, this dangling modifier
Using the same method, this dangling modifier
Click on the link below to complete Exercise 4.
Link to Exercise 4
Change the dangling modifier phrase to a subordinate clause, creating a subject and verb.
Leave the rest of the sentence as it is.
may be corrected to
Using the same method, the dangling modifier
may be corrected to
Click on the link below to complete the final exercise.
Link to exercise 5
Link to Post Test
Before I started to prepare for the Sentence Correction section of the GMAT, I hadn’t heard of a modifier, let alone a dangling modifier! What is all this about?
Consider the following example:
Looking out the window, the trees were seen by her.
1. Subject after comma
Look at the part of the sentence before the comma. This is the modifier. It modifies or changes the rest of the sentence in some way.
- What is the verb in the modifier? The verb is “looking out”.
- What is the subject of the verb? You may notice that in the modifier there is no subject for this verb. This makes the modifier a dangling modifier. It is not connected to the rest of the sentence properly. The rule is that the correct subject of the verb must come immediately after the comma.
- To determine what the subject is, you can ask yourself the question: Who or what performed the action? The answer to that question gives you the subject. The answer is that “she” did the looking. It cannot be the trees looking out the window. Therefore, “she” must come directly after the comma.
The correctly written sentence would become:
Looking out the window, she saw the trees.
This question may seem relatively simple. Often sentences involving dangling modifiers can be relatively long, perhaps up to four lines long. If you just concentrate on the word directly after the comma, you will save time.
2. Recognizing dangling modifier questions.
- You may say that that is all very well, but how do I recognize a dangling modifier question? The standard order of words in an English sentence is subject – verb – object. For example, “I drink tea”. When the test makers move away from this standard order, it is time to be careful. Whenever you see an “ing” form of a verb at the start of a sentence, you can recognize that you are being tested on the dangling modifier concept. The test makers may also disguise the modifier by starting the question with “After looking out…”, or “Before looking out…”. However, it’s still a dangling modifier issue.
- Dangling modifier questions can also start with the past participle of the verb. For example, “Spoken in many countries, English has become the global language.” The modifier is the part of the sentence that comes before the comma. It contains a verb “spoken”, but does not tell us what is spoken. The answer to the question of what is spoken must come directly after the comma.
3. Active vs. Passive
A final point in relation to our first example of the trees: As someone with some knowledge of sentence correction, you may say you don’t like the sentence, as it contains a passive construction. Very good! If everything else is equal and you have a choice of passive or active, choose the active.
If you can save time on such questions, you will have more time for those tricky reading comprehension and critical reasoning problems!
This was a sample of the in-depth instruction that Economist GMAT Tutor offers about grammar in the GMAT Verbal section. For complete and interactive lessons, practice tests, and online tutor support, subscribe to one of Economist GMAT Tutor's top-rated GMAT prep plans. Commitment-free trials are available for seven days.
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