Beware the dangling modifier

 

Are you using the dreaded dangling modifier in your writing?

If you don’t know what that means, let’s break it down so you can avoid these common clumsy constructions.

What is a modifier?

As an editor, I see dangling modifiers everywhere.

‘As an editor’ is the modifier. It’s modifying ‘I’ by giving some extra information.

And a dangling modifier?

As an editing teacher, my students love it when I explain dangling modifiers.

‘As an editing teacher’ is the modifier, but what is it modifying? The students? No. It’s ‘dangling’ because it’s not modifying anything.

Here’s another version that I see all the time.

Sitting down, the couch was really comfortable.

‘Sitting down’ is the modifier, but the couch didn’t sit down, so what’s ‘sitting down’ modifying?

How to correct:

There’s no one quick fix; it depends on each instance. Here are some options.

Cut the modifier if it’s not needed:
My editing students love it when I teach them about dangling modifiers.
(See how I slipped the information about their being editing students into the sentence so I could cut the information about my being an editing teacher?)

Add whatever’s being modified:
Sitting down, she found the couch really comfortable.

Think outside the box:
She sank into the comfortable couch.

There are also squinting and misplaced modifiers. Curious? Here’s a post I prepared earlier.

POST NOTE THOUGHT FOR ANY EDITORS AND GRAMMAR GEEKS OUT THERE

their being editing students OR them being editing students?

Technically ‘their’ is correct, as ‘being’ is a gerund (verb acting as a noun), but this kind of gerund construction is going out of fashion. ‘Them’ would be acceptable and easier on the ear, but I just can’t bring myself to do it given this is a mini grammar lesson and I’m supposed to be coming over all brainiac in that department. Am I being a stuck-in-the-mud?