Why Dangling Modifiers Aren't the Real Problem

This post by James Harbeck originally appeared on Slate on 9/9/14.

There’s been a little kerfuffle lately over danglers. Steven Pinker, who is a noted linguist, said in an article in The Guardian that some dangling modifiers are OK to use—in fact, according to him, they’re not even ungrammatical.

What are dangling modifiers, or “danglers” for short, you ask? In a nutshell, a dangler is a little phrase—not a complete sentence—that is used at the start of a sentence to describe something, but that something is not the subject doing the main action of the sentence. Since dangling modifiers don’t attach to what comes right after them, they “dangle.” The result is that they can be read as describing the subject of the sentence when they actually don’t, which can be pretty funny, and we must not be unintentionally funny when we are writing.

Danglers can use present participles:

Walking down the street, a statue of King George appeared. [It’s not really the statue that was walking.]

They can use past participles:

Trapped underwater, the cook recounted his miraculous rescue. [He wasn’t trapped at the time he recounted it, just at the time he was rescued.]


Click here to read the full post on Slate.


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