Misplaced, Dangling, and Squinting Modifiers

  • Misplaced Modifier

    A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that has landed in the wrong place in the sentence. A modifier must be placed next to the word it modifies. When the modifier is incorrectly placed, the sentence either communicates meaning the writer did not intend--or makes no sense at all!

    Throw mother out the window a rope.

    Obviously, the writer doesn't mean to throw mother out the window, but to throw the rope out the window to mother.

    Correct a misplaced modifier error by placing the modifier next to the word it modifies.

  • Dangling Modifier

    A dangling modifier has no word to logically modify. In other words, the modifer describes a word that does not appear in the sentence.

    Sitting on the floor, the hours seemed to drag by slowly.

    The modifier sitting on the floor describes somebody--but the sentence doesn't tell us who is sitting on the floor. The only possible noun for this phrase to modify is hours, but it's pretty obvious that the hours are not sitting on the floor.

    Correct a dangling modifier error by specifying the word modified.

  • Squinting Modifier

    A squinting modifier is also sometimes called a two-way modifier. This modifier error occurs when a modifier is placed between two words and could modifier either one. In other words, the modifier is squinting--looking two directions--to see which word it is supposed to modify.

    Students who miss classes frequently fail the course.

    We can't tell which part of the sentence the word frequently is supposed to modify. Look at these two possible meanings:

    Students who miss class frequently
    frequently fail the course.

    Correct a squinting modifier error by repositioning the modifier to place it next to the word it modifies.

The next few pages will examine each of these modifier errors in detail.