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What is a dangling modifier?

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A dangling modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes something that has been left out of the sentence. When there is nothing that the word, phrase, or clause can modify, the modifier is said to dangle.

Adjectives ending in -ing (and sometimes -ed) are called participles and must be used with care. Consider the following sentences:

The robber ran from the policeman, still holding the money in his hands.
After being whipped fiercely, the cook boiled the egg.
Flitting merrily from flower to flower, the football player watched the bee.

The grammatical problem here rests with the -ing and -ed words used in these sentences: "holding," "being whipped," and "flitting." They are all participles, a type of verbal form that modifies nouns.

The antecedent—that is, the noun to which the participle refers—must be clear to the readers in order for them to understand what's being said. Otherwise, an action may be ascribed to the wrong player, such as "flitting" to athletes. That's called a "dangling participle," because it's left "dangling" without a clear antecedent.
 

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