Grandma's Tales

December 9, 2006

Grammar – 18 Leave the dangling to Tarzan!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 7:22 pm

Misplaced modifiers are fun. You place the modifier carelessly and the sentence becomes a howler. Unless of course, you want to call it humour. You then pick up your spade, dig out the modifier carefully, root and all, and plant it where it belongs. Done!

The dangling modifier is a mystery. Here you try to supply more information, lose track and patience, leave it incomplete and rush to end the sentence. Period. Your modifier is left dangling with partial information.

But it can’t stay in suspended animation for long. It needs sustenance. Desperately, it latches on to the nearest noun (modifiers add value, right?) and there it goes. You have an absurdity on hand.

Here is an example of that shoddy job: After finishing the home work, the TV was turned on.

The writer, of course, knows who finished the home-work and who turned on the TV. The reader is left to assume that the TV finished the home-work. And a TV that can finish the home-work, should be able to turn itself on or off, I guess.

The main part of the sentence (the main clause) is “the TV was turned on“. The modifier (the part that adds value) is “After finishing the home-work“. The information missing here is “who”. Who finished the home-work before turning on the TV? That is the mystery the modifier is shrouded in.

Let’s assume it was a “he”. Boys always complete their home-work before turning on the TV, don’t they? Where will you introduce him? There are two immediate ways to do that.

[1] After finishing the home-work, he turned on the TV.
[2] After he finished the home-work, he turned on the TV.
A third one (for variety!) would be: He did not turn on the TV till he finished his home-work.
No ambiguities here!

Learning outcome 🙂
[1] Incomplete modifiers are genenrally found dangling in the first part of the sentence.
[2] They are short of information.
[3] This unnecessary secrecy (or plain carelessness) makes them and the sentence meaningless.
So watch out!

This sentence is from London Daily Telegraph. It is from a story titled Thought-powered bionic arm is a touch of genius.

The victim of a motorcycle accident that resulted in the amputation of her left arm, the device has changed her prospects.

Read it a couple of times, and you are still wondering how the device got to be the victim of a motorcycle accident. See the point?
the device has changed her prospects” is the main part of the sentence. What is the unknown element in the first part, the dangling modifier? We know there is a victim. We know it is a “she”. What we need to know to make sense is “when”. When did the device change her prospects? Answer that and the modifier is on firm ground.

Of course, there are different ways of reforming this sentence. Want to try? My vote always is for splitting and writing two sentences that leave no doubt about what the author wants to say. Isn’t clarity rule #1 in writing?

Will be back with more examples …



  1. Ok here…

    She was a victim of a motorcycle accident that resulted in the amputation of her left arm. But, the device changed her prospects.

    Comment by Rashmi — December 11, 2006 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

  2. Absolutely, Rashmi! Full marks!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — December 11, 2006 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: