Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Beware of the Dangling Modifier!

            As conference season begins for me this weekend, we are often asked to provide a list of writing resources we recommend.

Proofreading Secrets of Bestselling Authors by Kathy Ide is on my list.

Kathy offers us a helpful tip here.

            As a writer, words and punctuation marks are the tools of your trade. Right? Actually … wrong! Grammatically, anyway.

            When you start a sentence with a modifying word or phrase, the subject of the sentence is what has to be modified by that word or phrase. An introductory phrase that doesn’t modify the appropriate word is called a “dangling modifier.”

            The opening phrase in the above sentence is “As a writer.” The subject of the sentence is “Words and punctuation marks.” Since words and punctuation marks are not “a writer,” we’d need to rewrite that to something like “Words and punctuation marks are a writer’s tools of the trade.”

            Now that you’ve been reminded of a rule you probably barely paid attention to in high school, let’s try a tricky example:

Six months after attending Mount Hermon, Kim’s article was accepted by a publisher.

            “Kim’s article” did not attend Mount Hermon. So you’d want to rewrite that too.

            Timing is crucial when it comes to modifiers. Any action in the introductory phrase must be accomplished at the same time as the action in the rest of the sentence. For example:

Hugging the postman, Delilah ripped open the box containing her new novel.

            Delilah cannot simultaneously hug the postman and rip open a box.

            Once you get a handle on these dangling dilly-dallies, you’ll be spotting them everywhere! Maybe even in your own writing.

            For more tips on proofreading for typos, inconsistencies, and errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling, check out Kathy’s new book, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, which just released on January 31st from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Stop by and visit Kathy's website/blog at

1 comment:

Ron Estrada said...

Yes, I've been busted for dangline modifiers a few times. Now I see there's another book I must own!