Ever read a sentence and wonder who did what? Writing like you speak is okay sometimes, but words on a page have no inflection, and you can’t play charades to get your point across. To clear the confusion, you’ve got to logically refer to the correct pronoun or noun in all your phrases. In other words, use the right modifier—a word, phrase, or clause that expands, limits, or specifies the meaning of other elements in a sentence. Below are some examples of the three kinds of misplaced modifiers and how you can fix them.
Dangling. Dangling modifiers lack a subject in the first part of the sentence and don’t clearly refer to the correct term. For example: “Running for the bus, the rain started to fall.” Of course the rain wasn’t running for the bus, so you’ve got to say something like “As I ran for the bus, the rain started to fall.” In general, to fix these you must (1) leave the modifier and add the term it modifies directly after it or (2) change the main part of the sentence so it begins with the modified term.
Misplaced. Misplaced modifiers alter the wrong word or phrase, and they can be pretty hilarious. For example: “He serves spaghetti to the children on paper plates.” The children aren’t sitting on paper plates (I hope), so it’s better to say “He serves spaghetti on paper plates to the children.” Yum.
Squinting. These modifiers can reasonably change the meaning of two sentence elements simultaneously, so readers may find themselves squinting while trying to figure out which you intended. For example: “She painted the dog sitting on the bench.” Is the dog sitting on the bench, or is she sitting on the bench? Depending on which you mean, clarify with one of two new sentences: “She painted the dog from her seat on the bench” or “She painted the dog as it sat on the bench.”
If you didn’t know, now you know. Hopefully this will put an end to running rain, kids on plates, and confusion about dogs and paintings.