Let's talk dangling modifiers. Mastering “danglers” is important if you’re going to communicate correctly.
What, then, is a dangling modifier? It occurs when a modifying phrase or clause fails to clearly and sensibly modify a word in the sentence. I know, I know – that’s not real clear. A few examples should help.
Reading in the library, the siren of a passing ambulance distracted me.
There is no word in this sentence that can be sensibly modified by the phrase “reading in the library.” A siren, which the phrase appears to modify, is not usually found reading in a library. It can be corrected by adding a word for the phrase to modify: Reading in the library, I was distracted by the siren of a passing ambulance.
Here’s another example:
Wrong: While in the bowling alley, the car was stolen. (The car is not in the bowling alley.)
Right: While we were in the bowling alley, the car was stolen.
Here’s one I heard some time ago on a Entertainment Tonight:
Twenty-four hours after being crowned TV's darling, we were on the Felicity set with Keri Russell.
Sounds like we had been crowned TV’s darling. The sentence can be corrected by placing Keri Russell immediately after the modifying phrase and rewording slightly: Twenty-four hours after being crowned TV’s darling, Keri Russell was on the Felicity set with us.
And finally, I leave you with this classic, which I saw in an autobiography of George Paterno, Joe's brother. The author was discussing his family’s move into a new house during his youth:
Having moved to Brooklyn, World War II broke out. (Savor that one a moment.)
He obviously meant to say, We had just moved to Brooklyn when World War II broke out -- or something to that effect. At any rate, ol' George (God bless his soul) needed an editor.
Here’s a hint to help you identify “danglers”: Be on the lookout for sentences that begin with a descriptive phrase, then make sure the next word can logically be described by that phrase. Thus, Mounted on blocks in the garage, the girls admired the car becomes Mounted on blocks in the garage, the car was admired by the girls.