“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23
Although I have lived an hour from Fort Worth, Texas for almost ten years, I had never thought to visit the famous Stockyards until looking for ways to entertain a guest from Korea this week. My daughter, grandchildren and I took him to the longhorn cattle drive conducted daily in the older part of the city. Afterwards we visited the steers in their pens and wandered through the district’s many shops. For lunch we stopped at a nearby restaurant so he could try barbecued brisket and ribs. We ended the evening with a semi-pro baseball game in Cleburne. The day was full of fun and adventure.
It’s easy to fall into ruts of routine. There’s nothing wrong with following a fixed daily schedule, but sometimes we should think to stretch beyond our habits and mix things up a little.
Writers can also fall into habits that need some shaking up. We become so used to hearing certain patterns in words that we miss common errors. One of these is dangling modifiers.
When using a phrase to modify (add additional information to) a statement, the phrase must be connected to the person or thing it is describing.
Here’s an example: Unlike most of his teammates, Sam couldn’t run. The base statement is: Sam couldn’t run. The phrase Unlike most of his teammates gives us the additional information that Sam differed from most of the other players, who could run.
When a writer uses a modifying clause, but does not tie it to the person or thing it is describing, the clause is left dangling.
Example: Unlike many other students, the financial aid office did not approve his application. The financial aid office is not a student, so it cannot be compared to many other students. Additionally, we do not know whose application was rejected. The modifying clause is not connected to anything in the root statement, so it is dangling. The meaning is unclear because the reader can’t tell who did what. To be clear, it should read something like: Although the financial aid office approved many student applications, it did not approve his or His student application was not approved as others had been.
Consider the following sentences which have dangling modifiers:
* Having learned French in just six weeks, the trip to France was wonderful. Who learned French in six weeks, and who traveled to France? To be clear, sometimes all a sentence needs is a simple pronoun: Having learned French in just six weeks, his trip to France was wonderful.
* Climbing up to the high dive platform, the feeling was a scary one. Who climbed the high dive and experienced fear? Here’s a possible fix: As I climbed up to the high dive platform, I felt scared.
* Looking over the job applicant’s resume, several weaknesses became evident right away. Who looked over the resume and found the weaknesses? This one needs a few tweaks: In looking over the applicant’s resume, the HR officer found several weaknesses.
* Walking back to my hotel room, my keys fell out of my pocket. Your keys were walking to your hotel room? This one needs only minor adjustment: As I walked back to my hotel room, my keys fell…
* While trying to send an important email, my dog kept begging to go outside. Really? Your dog was sending an email? Specify who was sending the email: While I was trying to send an important email…
Do you see how a disconnect between the root sentence and a modifying phrase can cause confusion? Clarity is one of the writer’s top goals. Without it, readers will quickly turn aside to other materials.
See if you can find and revise the dangling modifiers in these examples. Let me know how you get along with them:
1. Having run out of gas, my parents came to pick me up.
2. After washing the car, the hubcaps shone like new.
3. Having entered the movie theater, the music was way too loud.
4. Saddened by the news, my mother tried to comfort me.
5. While biking around town, many dogs barked at me.
6. While speaking to the police officer, the phone rang.
7. During the exam, the questions were harder than expected.
8. Dissatisfied with the merchandise, the money was quickly refunded.
9. Arriving late to the party, the games were already over.
10. With nothing better to do, playing a board game was the only option.