A dangling modifier is a tricky little beast. At first you think you’ve written a great sentence, but then your editor leaves you a comment about a dangling modifier. What?
Let’s start with a definition: a modifier is something that, obviously, modifies. It alters, changes, or otherwise defines something else in the sentence. The reason it’s called a dangling modifier is when it “dangles” on its own and makes it unclear what is being modified. This usually occurs at the beginning of a sentence, though it also can be found at the end in some cases.
Here’s an example taken from here:
Hoping to garner favor, my parents were unimpressed with the gift.
The “hoping to garner favor” phrase is a dangling modifier because we don’t know what’s being defined. WHAT or WHO(M) is hoping to garner favor? We know it can’t be “my parents,” so there’s something missing.
Here’s that sentence corrected:
Hoping to garner favor, my boyfriend gave my parents a gift, but they were unimpressed.
Now we’ve added “my boyfriend,” so the sentence makes sense and the modifier is no longer dangling.
Here’s another example:
**Having finished eating, the plate was washed and put away.
What’s wrong with this? Well, the phrasing makes it sound like the plate was eating! That’s not right, obviously. Here’s one way to change it to be correct:
**Having finished eating, the girl washed her plate and put it away.
How to spot a dangling modifier
To put it as simply as possible, if you have a dangling modifier, your sentence will not make sense. There will be information (like a noun) missing, and you might also be giving actions to inanimate objects like the plate example. Be looking for dangling modifiers in your writing and make sure you adjust if an editor or reader points one out to you.
For more on dangling modifiers: