Danglers and Other Misplaced Modifiers
- On November 8, 2016
Not long ago, LuckyVitamin, an online store, greeted me with an email that opened with this line: From receiving products without clicking a button to shopping for everything you need in one place, we are here to simplify your lifestyle.
And that, dear reader, is a perfect example of a dangling participle, a subset of a larger group of offenders generally called misplaced modifiers. The participial phrase from receiving products without clicking a button to shopping for everything you need in one place needs to modify the subject of the sentence—we (the store)—but it does not. It’s actually referring to me, the shopper.
I would fix the sentence by dropping the participial phrase altogether. (Click on the link below for an explanation of a participial phrase.) Here’s my revision: Receive products without clicking a button. Shop for everything you need in one place. These are just two of the ways LuckyVitamin can simplify your lifestyle. This copy, in addition to being grammatically correct, is now fully about the customer—not the vendor.
Drexel University ran a full-page ad in The New York Times with a similar error: From Philadelphia neighborhoods tackling health disparities to developing nations building basic infrastructure, Drexel’s public health students and faculty help communities around the world find solutions.
In this sentence, Drexel’s students and faculty are the subject, but the participial phrase doesn’t modify them. The solution is easy: Whether they are tackling health disparities in Philadelphia neighborhoods or building basic infrastructure in developing nations, Drexel’s public health students and faculty help communities around the world find solutions. By inserting the preposition they, the participial phrase now modifies the students and faculty.
Misplaced modifiers are words—or even a single word—that are out of place in a sentence and, as a result, modify something you didn’t intend them to, as was the case in this Daily News photo caption: Cops on de Blasio detail arrest man who sucker-punched 85-year-old while on their morning jog. You might think the 85-year-old was on his morning run, not the cops. The sentence should have read, While on their morning jog, cops on de Blasio detail arrest man who sucker-punched 85-year-old.
A while ago, a well-known brand of beer ran a one-sentence ad for its low-calorie brew: Our beer only has 120 calories! But only—arguably the ad’s most important word—was in the wrong place. The message would have been stronger had the ad read, Our beer has only 120 calories!
I’ll drink to that.
Mary Norris, a longtime copyeditor at The New Yorker, explains more about Dangling participles in this charming video. And for more on that little word only, read Watch Where You Put the Only.