Archive for March 2010

Misplaced Words and Phrases

March 28, 2010

Misplaced Words and Phrases

In English, the order of words is essential to understanding. An adjective or adverb modifies a word by appearing next to it in a sentence.  If you separate the modifying word from the word it modifies, some confusing and unintended meanings may result. (Purdue University website)


Consider this sentence:

Having finished her assignment, Mary turned on the TV.

“Having finished” states an action but does not name the doer of that action.  In English sentences, the doer must be the subject of the main clause that follows. In this sentence it is Mary. She seems logically to be the one doing the action (“having finished”), and this sentence, therefore, does not have a dangling modifier.

Now consider this sentence:

Having finished her assignment, the TV was turned on.

Having finished is a participle expressing action, but the doer is not the TV set (the subject of the main clause): TV sets don’t finish assignments. Since the doer of the action expressed in the participle has not clearly been stated, the participial phrase is said to be a dangling modifier.

Example of Dangling Modifier

After reading the original study, the article remained unconvincing.

(The article – the subject of the main clause- did not read the original study.)


After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.


1. A woman passed by, leading a Springer spaniel in a long black dress.

2.  After trying the combination several times, the lock finally opened.

3. Disappointed that vacation would soon end, September came all too quickly.

4. He went to the library wearing a leather jacket.

5. After reading the paper, the telephone rang.

6. Working all afternoon, the foundation was completed.

7. Running from New York to Florida, people ride the Silver Star.

8. Laughing loudly, the joke pleased the audience.

9. Forgetting to buy gas, the car wouldn’t start.

10. Typing slowly, the paper seemed endless.

Beware of dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers. Stay tuned for part 2.