About Dangling Participles, Dangling Modifiers, and Missing Modifiers

Saturday, February 12, 2022
By Bobbie Christmas
Q: What does my editor mean when she says my manuscript has danglers?
A: She means that some sentences are missing important words. Without seeing the manuscript I don’t know whether the sentences have dangling participles, dangling modifiers, or missing modifiers, but let me explain. 
All dangling (or missing) modifiers can make readers misinterpret a sentence. A dangling modifier is missing a subject and is usually a participle.
A dangling participle is always a dangling modifier, but not all that dangles is a participle.
Participles are words formed from verbs (such as the word “sitting,” formed from the verb “to sit” or the word “opening” from the verb “to open”) that are used as adjectives (for example “working mother” or “burned building”) or a noun (“stylish dancing”).
Most, but not all, participles end with “ing,” which can help writers identify them more easily.
All this information sounds confusing. Let me give some examples from manuscripts I’ve edited. I’ve removed any character names to protect the authors who made these mistakes.
Example: Having a top speed of more than two hundred miles an hour, he’d reach town before ten o’clock. [As written the dangling participle (having) makes the sentence say that instead of the bullet train, the man had a speed of two hundred miles an hour. To correct the error, I would recast perhaps this way: The bullet train had a top speed of more than two hundred miles an hour, which meant he would reach town before ten o’clock.]
Example: The empty building he’d scouted walking back from the bar had the best potential. [As written this sentence says a building was walking. I’d recast this way: While he was walking back from the bar, he had scouted an empty building that had the best potential.] 
Example: Having just turned seventy-five, some would have figured he’d be slowing down. [As written this sentence says that something other than the man had just turned seventy-five. To correct the errors, I would recast this way: Because he had just turned seventy-five, some people would have figured he’d be slowing down.]
Example: Sitting on his discolored mattress, his crummy little room felt claustrophobic. [As written this sentence says that his crummy room sat on his mattress, not to mention that his room had feelings instead of him. To correct the errors, I would suggest a recast such as this one: He felt claustrophobic when he sat on his discolored mattress in his crummy little room.]
Example: He had the salesperson gift wrap his purchase before rushing out of the shop. [As written this sentence says that the salesperson rushed out of the shop. How would you recast the sentence for clarity?] 
Example: Turning the truck sharply out of the sand ruts to face the breakers, his eyes darted left and right. [What’s wrong here? How would you recast the sentence?]
Example: After a few bites to the back of my leg, I found a long stick, and I wasn’t bitten again. [What is missing? How would you recast the sentence?]
In all these examples, a word or words are missing. The dangling (or missing) modifiers make the sentence say something the writer did not intend. Many writers are too close to their work to spot such errors, but a good editor will point them out.
If my explanations or examples left you in any doubt, shoot me an email (bzebra@aol.com), and I’ll gladly explain further. As always, if you ever have a question about creative writing, I’m here for you. 
Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications. She will answer your questions too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com or BZebra@aol.com. Read Bobbie’s Zebra Communications blog at https://www.zebraeditor.com/blog/.


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