The term “dangling modifier” may sound like English teachers’ jargon to you, but it points to a real-world writing problem you should avoid in your reports.
If you’re hoping for promotions later in your career, this grammar issue is even more important. Luckily it’s not difficult to learn!
“Dangling” means hanging, and a “modifier” is a description. So a “dangling modifier” is a description in the wrong place.
A dangling modifier is usually easy to spot because it sounds ridiculous! Take a look at these examples:
Spattered around the room, Jones photographed the blood. DANGLING MODIFIER
I spotted broken glass searching for evidence. DANGLING MODIFIER
I saw a bloody knife walking through the bedroom. DANGLING MODIFIER
Here are the corrected sentences:
Jones photographed the blood that was spattered around the room. CORRECT
While searching for evidence, I spotted broken glass . CORRECT
Walking through the bedroom, I saw a bloody knife. CORRECT
Sometimes, though, a dangling modifier is harder to spot. This sentence may look correct on first reading – but it isn’t:
Questioning inmate Kelly, he said his sister had bought the watch for him. DANGLING MODIFIER
There are two problems with the sentence. First, Kelly didn’t do the questioning. Second, the sentence doesn’t specify who did. The omission might create a problem in a disciplinary hearing or court case, when it’s important to identify all the parties involved.
Here’s the corrected sentence:
When I questioned inmate Kelly, he said his sister had bought the watch for him. CORRECT
Here’s some easy advice: Be careful when you start a sentence with an -ing word. Often it will contain a dangling modifier. If you do start a sentence with an -ing word, make sure it clearly indicates who did what.