Boy do I see these quite a bit—even in advertisements in print. OK, I was reading a cat story last night—one of those where you have to click forever. (I’m a sucker.) Then I came to: “Rescued at last, BenBen’s life was about to change forever.” Ah, here’s an example of a misplaced modifier I can use for that blog piece!
“Rescued at last, BenBen’s life was about to change forever.”
The cat’s life wasn’t rescued. The cat was rescued.
That’s a misplaced modifier, also sometimes known as a “dangling participle.”
“Rescued” is a verb turned into an adjective, so we call it a participle or a modifier—either term will do. Often a participle is thought of as a verb turned into an adjective with an “ing,” but not all participles are formed with an “ing.”
“Rescuing the cat, John took BenBen to the vet.” (That’s not the greatest sentence ever, but it’s an appropriate use of the participle “rescuing.”)
Yes, I do see these goofs all the time. And they’re slippery. I will sometimes write a misplaced modifier myself, only to come back later and catch the bad boy.
How to avoid these somewhat elusive mistakes? Like everything else in writing, we have to bring such goofs to our attention. We have to proofread carefully. Does the modifier in this case explain what we know it is intended to clarify?
We can fix a misplaced modifier in one of two ways. We can place the modified element in with the participle:
“With BenBen rescued at last, his life was about to change forever.” The modifier now appropriately modifies BenBen.
Or, we can change the second part of the sentence to move the modified element into place.
“Rescued at last, BenBen knew his life was about to change forever.” The appropriate noun is again modified. I just don’t, personally, want to imply that the cat knows his life is about to change. Well, he might suspect it.
Send a comment here if you want to inquire about an edit, or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. Hurry, as Writing the Mystery is up next—the third edition of my award winning instructional of the same name should be out right about now. Or download The Naked Writer at Amazon. I have fiction available for download on Smashwords and at Amazon as well, including a YA for girls (The Heroine’s Journey) and an upper middle grade fantasy with a boy protagonist (Strings). These two novels are available in paperback. Or for some post-apocalyptic fun—Question Woman and Howling Sky is in ebook and paperback and audio formats.