In a previous write-up, we started a discourse on PROPER AND DANGLING MODIFIERS. Today we continue the discourse from DANGLING MODIFIERS. Before we proceed, we recap the learning outcomes.
After working through this discourse, students and readers should be able to enhance their knowledge of:
- The meaning of modifiers
- The use of modifiers
- The avoidance of dangling and squinting modifiers
A dangling modifier is usually a phrase or an elliptical clause – a dependent clause whose subject and verb are implied rather than expressed – functioning as an adjective but does not modify any specific word in the sentence. In a worse form, the dangling modifier modifies a wrong word in the sentence. A frequent grammatical problem in writing, it is mostly located in the beginning of a sentence. Its synonyms include floater, hanging modifier, and floating modifier.
The following are examples:
- BRED IN TAMALE, it is natural to like TZ.
- AS JOURNALISTS, objectivity must be upheld.
The introductory phrase in the first sentence looks as if it is meant to modify a person or persons, but no one is mentioned in the sentence. Because of their position, such introductory adjectival phrases automatically modify the first noun or pronoun that follows them – in this case, “it.” The connection in this case is illogical because “it” was not bred in Tamale. We could revise the sentence in a number of ways to avoid the dangling modifier:
- FOR A PERSON BRED IN TAMALE, it is natural to like TZ. [The phrase no longer functions as an adjective].
- BRED IN TAMALE, I naturally like TZ. [The phrase functions as an adjective, but now automatically modifies “I,” a logical connection].
Another way of correcting the anomaly is to visualize the beginning phrase as a dependent elliptical clause in which the subject is not stated but implied. This should be followed by a conclusion that the implied subject in the elliptical clause is clearly stated as the subject in the second clause. Remember that sentences involving dangling modifiers are often made up of two parts – the first part constituting the beginning phrase or elliptical clause and the second part, which is often an independent clause. Using this technique, we can correct the sentences under review as follows:
- As I was bred in Tamale, I naturally like TZ. [Who was bred in Tamale? I. And who naturally likes TZ? I. So, “I” is the subject of both clauses].
- Because WE are journalists, WE must uphold objectivity. [Who are journalists? WE, and who must uphold objectivity? WE. So, “WE” is the subject of both clauses].
A dangling modifier can also appear when we place an elliptical clause improperly. Below is an example:
- ALTHOUGH NEARLY FINISHED, we left the play early because we were tired.
The way this sentence is structured, the clause “Although nearly finished” illogically modifies “we,” the pronoun directly following the clause. An easy way to rectify the problem is to re-insert the subject and verb that are understood in the elliptical clause:
- Although THE PLAY was nearly finished, we left early because we were tired.
Can you offer other ways of correcting this amusing sentence?
It is important to state that danglers are not limited to learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). Indeed, some anglophiles erroneously think that any piece of communication from England or America is good English. To counter this notion, we include in this discourse a sample of dangling sentences in American media. The danglers are in UPPERCASE.
Examples of danglers in American media:
- “If acquitted, Mr. Mowen would get the money. IF CONVICTED, the proceeds – projected by Mr. Olson at $2 million to $3 million – would go to people who lost money in Mr. Mowen’s investment funds.”
(“Trial Pending, Suspect’s Cars Will Soon Be Freed.” The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2010).
Comment : the proceeds cannot be convicted because they are not on trial in any court. The way the sentence is structured, it is the proceeds that might be convicted.
- “That Wolfgang Puck introduced a new latte line may not be surprising, but the container, which heats itself, is. BY PRESSING A BUTTON ON THE BOTTOM, water mixes with quicklime, producing a chemical reaction that heats the coffee.”
(The New York Times, May 2005).
Comment : can water press a button on the bottom? Certainly no! The structure of the sentence implies that water presses the bottom and then mixes with quicklime…
- “SITTING IN THE HUGE FIGHTING CHAIR WITH THE HUGE ROD AND REEL, IN THE WELL OF THE HUGE SPORTFISHING VESSEL, it was inescapably apparent who had the edge.”
(Paul Greenberg, “Tuna’s End.” The New York Times Magazine, June 21, 2010).
Comment : so, “it” was sitting in the huge fighting chair with the huge rod and reel. Hahahahaa! This is impossible.
- “IF ELECTED, Obama’s main opposition will not come from Republicans.”
(David Brooks, “Talking Versus Doing.” The New York Times, May 20, 2008)
Comment : if who is elected? Obama or his main opposition? This is a clear case of avoidable ambiguity.
- BY REVERSING THE COLOR SCHEME, the eye is captured.
Comment : how can the eye reverse the color scheme and then get captured? This is ridiculous! Because of the dangling nature of the sentence, it means that the eye reverses the color scheme and gets captured.
Equipped with the comments, interested readers and students may correct these dangling constructions for a special award. Hhahahaaaa!
A squinting modifier is an ambiguously placed modifier that can modify either the word before it or the word after it. In other words, it is “squinting” in both directions at the same time (Ebest, et al, 2004). Below is an example:
- Reading books CRITICALLY broadens one’s intellectual scope. (Does the adverb CRITICALLY modify the gerund ‘reading’ or the verb ‘broadens’?)
The way the modifier is placed, the sentence can mean that critical reading of books broadens one’s intellectual scope or reading books broadens one’s intellectual scope critically. The ambiguity can therefore be eliminated in the following revision:
- CRITICAL READING of books broadens one’s intellectual scope or
- Reading books broadens one’s intellectual scope CRITICALLY.
To be continued.
By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale
Email: [email protected] Tell: 0244755402
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