Modifiers and their dangles

[Writer’s Stuff] (Hey, did you miss these posts? Give me topics and I’ll create more.)

Dangling modifiers can be a problem, but communication and understandings can make it easily missed.

Most people struggle with messed up modifiers. I would like to blame our brains being faster than our mouths. That’s how I always screw it up. As long as everyone understands, trust me it doesn’t matter.

That doesn’t mean it’s always understood.

A misplaced modifier is when the modifier reflects upon the wrong item. Dangling modifier is when the item to be modified isn’t even in the sentence. Modifiers much like pronouns relate back to something. A pronoun will connect to the last noun that can be used with it. A modifier typically connects to the closest possible connection.

Such as:

Watching through my window, the police launched an attack.

This modifier is grammarly connected to police. The police are watching through my window. That may be the statement you’re looking for. I mean, if you are captured by villains and the police are coming to save you, this may be the actual statement you want.

It’s more likely you are watching the police through your window as they launch an attack. That’s the more likely scenario. And most would probably guess that if this was a first person narrative clearly showing those actions.

Sirens hit me as I reach my bedroom. Did they already arrive? Watching through my window, the police launched an attack.

Assumption here would be the police are not the ones watching through the window.

Still, do you see how dangling modifiers can be confusing? They often times can be figured out if you’re used to the style of writing and the exact scene being written. We can guess assumptions like missing ‘I’ or the verb ‘to be’. That’s not an uncommon thing to have happen in languages.

Sometimes a misplaced or dangling modifiers is much like the difference between Can I (have a pencil) vs May I (have a pencil). Can should relate to ability. May means permission. Most will say ‘Can I have a pencil?’ and assume you’re asking permission. Because who asked another if they have the ability to have a pencil?

Modifiers can be like that. And when they are, only picky readers or new to English readers struggle. Communication can still work. Clarify and move on.

When going through edits, seek out modifiers to make sure they are modifying what you want them to.

It would be creepy to have the police watching through my window. Are they watching me? Or are they next to me watching out the window with me? Both rather creepy. Especially if their goal is to launch an attack.

Where do I even come up with these sentences?

Anyway, this was a lesson I just went over with Cyro, so I figured I’d add a blog post here about it.


Check out my other random writing lessons: [Writer’s Stuff]


If you’re interested in me writing up a bunch of practice sentences for you to find and fix modifier mess ups, say something. I’m thinking of having little practices at the end of some of my writer’s stuff work in the book I’m building. This could be a helpful practice.

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