Dangling modifier

Writing Tips >> Dangling modifier

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase at the start of a sentence that tries to add information about (modifies) the main noun (subject) of the sentence but fails to do so. It can cause confusion if the reader does not understand what or who is being modified, as in this this example:

✘ Being the foremost expert in the field, the work has provided the foundational principles for further research. 

The dangling modifier “being the foremost expert in the field” suggests the extra information is about a person, but the subject is “work”, not a person.

✔ Being the foremost expert in the field, Faraday has provided the foundational principles for further research. 

The participle modifier “being the foremost expert in the field” suggests the extra information is about a person, and is not dangling because the subject is “Faraday”, whom we understand is a person.

 

Participle Clauses

In many cases, the modifier is a verb participle so, for example, to use the verb ‘break’ as a modifier means using the past participle ‘broken’ or the present participle ‘breaking’. Verb participles can be used in a participle clause to add information. For example:

Fats, broken down by short-chain lipids into diglycerides, are first digested in the mouth.

The independent clause is ’Fats are first digested in the mouth.’

The participle clause is ‘broken down by short-chain lipids into diglycerides’.

The past participle ‘broken’ is used to show this is what happens to the fats because of the short-chain lipids. In other words, the short-chain lipids break down the fats.

 

Participle Modifiers

The participle clause above gives information about ‘Fats’, which is the subject of the main clause. This idea can be re-written as a modifier:

Broken down by short-chain lipids into diglycerides, fats are first digested in the mouth.

Thus, a participle clause at the start of a sentence can also modify the subject of the main clause.

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