Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Now, where did I put it? Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles

As a regular reader of this blog, we would like to offer you some really useful tips on structuring your sentences logically.

Does anything grate as you read the above sentence? I hope so, because it should! It’s a classic example of a dangling modifier: the subject of the main part of the sentence is ‘we’, proofreaders at the Proofreading Agency, but the subject of the opening (the modifier, adding extra information) is ‘you’, the reader of this blog. The modifier is left ‘dangling’ or ‘hanging’ painfully, without the correct subject to attach it to.

Hanging or dangling participles

Other classic examples of dangling modifiers involve sentences starting with participles, such as ‘Born in 1564, Shakespeare’s works bridge the Tudor and Stuart eras’ or ‘Opening the car door, the dog jumped out’ – living plays and poems, and a dog that can open car doors!  Such errors commonly arise when writers are trying to cut down on words, and are easily fixed – often without increasing the word count unduly – by rephrasing one part of the sentence so that the subjects match: ‘Born in 1564, Shakespeare wrote works that bridge the Tudor and Stuart eras’ and ‘When I opened the car door, the dog jumped out’.

Pesky prepositional phrases

No, that isn’t an official grammatical term, but it is often surprisingly difficult to know where to insert information about position, particularly in a long or complicated sentence. The following might raise a laugh:

  • ‘The pacemaker is implanted by the surgeon just below the collarbone.’ Is the surgeon in this unlikely position, or should it be the device? Suggested solution: ‘The surgeon implants the pacemaker just below the collarbone’ or, to respect the scientific tradition of using the passive, ‘The pacemaker is implanted just below the collarbone’ (we can assume that this is probably done by a surgeon).
  • ‘Read the author’s humorous poem about spelling mistakes on her blog.’ Hopefully, this is a poem about spelling mistakes, not a blog containing them! Suggested solution: ‘Read on her blog the author’s humorous poem about spelling mistakes.’

The key in all cases is to make sure that the phrase adding extra information is as close as possible to the thing it is describing, and that the subject is the same in both parts, so, to return to where we started, as you are a regular reader of this blog, we would like to offer you some really useful tips on structuring your sentences logically.



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Posted in Grammar, Proofreading/copy-editing