Weekly Excerpt From: GRAMMAR FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE RULES by Kathleen A. Watson

Dangling Modifiers:
Confusing to Downright Silly

I know, I know … I’ve heard all the jokes about dangling modifiers. But when it comes to grammar, they are no laughing matter.

A dangling modifier is a phrase that either is in the wrong place or modifies the wrong thing. These misplaced or poorly worded phrases can create confusion, or they can totally change the meaning of what you intend to say.

Or they can sound darned silly.

Having finished eating dinner, the dishes were loaded into the dishwasher.
problem: The dishes did not eat dinner; people ate dinner.
better: Having finished eating dinner, we loaded the dishes into the dishwasher.

Without knowing her phone number, it was impossible to contact her.
problem: Who didn’t know her number? It?
better: Without knowing her phone number, I found it impossible to contact her.

At age 7, Josh’s father entered the Army.
problem: No one’s father could enter the Army at age 7.
better: When Josh was 7, his father entered the Army.

Buried in an old cedar chest, Kia found her cheerleading sweater.
problem: Kia wasn’t buried in the old cedar chest, her sweater was.
better: Buried in an old cedar chest was the cheerleading sweater Kia had worn.
better yet: Kia found her cheerleading sweater buried in an old cedar chest.

Walking home last night, the porch light was visible a block away.
problem: The porch light was not walking home last night.
better: As I walked home last night, I saw the porch light from a block away.

To avoid dangling modifiers, pay attention to the order of your words and to the doer of the action.

√ Killer Quote: “Miscommunication lies at the heart
of most unhappy situations.” — George Davies


Writing and grammar expert Kathleen Watson, fondly known as The Ruthless Editor, has nearly three decades of experience in both corporate and academic worlds. She has taught business people how to fine-tune their communication style, college students how to strengthen their writing, and Ph.D. candidates how to polish their dissertations. Kathy also has experience as a fiction and nonfiction book copy editor, working with a mix of new and experienced authors.

In addition to writing her own book on grammar, she blogs at RuthlessEditor.com, sharing weekly tips on how to write to get the job you want, earn the promotion you’ve worked hard for, and artfully explain your best ideas.

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