In Chapter 3, you learned to punctuate sentences that have introductory phrases. In this unit, you’ll learn to make sure that the introductory phrase that you set off with a comma really describes what it’s supposed to describe—the subject of the main clause or the action of the subject. If the introductory phrase modifies some other word in the sentence (or a word that doesn’t even appear in the sentence), then the introductory phrase is called a dangling modifier. A sentence that has a dangling modifier is a weak, awkward, illogical-sounding sentence.

Here’s an example:

1. Employed as a weekend weatherman on an Indianapolis TV station, hailstones as big as canned hams were once predicted by David Letterman.

The subject of the sentence is the word hailstones. Whatever introductory phrase is attached to the sentence before the subject must describe the subject or the action of the subject. But the modifier in sentence 1 obviously is supposed to describe David Letterman, not hailstones or anything that hailstones could do. To see if an introductory phrase is well attached or if it’s dangling, ask yourself a question like this: Can the word hailstones (your subject) be described as employed as a weekend weatherman on an Indianapolis TV station (your introductory phrase)? If it can, then you’re okay. If it can’t, then you have a dangling modifier.

Once you know you have a dangling modifier, there is usually more than one good way of revising it. Here are some possible correct rewrites for sentence 1:

(a) Employed as a weekend weatherman on an Indianapolis TV station, David Letterman once predicted hailstones as big as canned hams.

(b) David Letterman, who once worked as a weekend weatherman on an Indianapolis TV station, predicted hailstones as big as canned hams.

(c) Hailstones as big as canned hams were once predicted by an Indianapolis TV station’s weekend weatherman, who was none other than David Letterman.

Exercise 4.1

Label each item OK or DM (dangling modifier). Underline the introductory modifier and label the subject S before you make your decision. Then rewrite the sentences that contain dangling modifiers; try to use a variety of sentence-combining techniques as you do your rewrites. Use your own paper, please. (The information here is found in Life-spans, Or, How Long Things Last, by Frank Kendig and Richard Hutton.)

1._______Refrigerated at the proper temperature, beer can be stored a maximum of three months; after that, it often has a buttery or papery taste.

2._______Wrapped individually in plastic or foil, hard candies and caramels can last anywhere from three to twelve months at room temperature.

3._______Cared for properly, the U.S. Army estimates that an M-1 rifle should last 10,000 rounds.

4._______Currently about four to five billion years old, scientists believe that the sun has a life span of 10 billion years.

5.________Performed upon average skin, plastic surgeons estimate that a successful face lift should last from six to 10 years.

Exercise 4.2

Label each item OK or DM. Underline introductory modifiers and label subjects. Rewrite problem sentences on your own paper. (These tidbits are from Joan Embery’s Collection of Amazing Animal Facts.)

1._______Weighing up to 32 ounces, Southeast Asia is the home of the world’s largest bat, whose wingspan has been measured at five feet, seven inches.

2.________Having no bark at all, the basenji dog of Africa makes the perfect hunting dog.

3._______Extremely long-lived, it is known that swans can survive up to one hundred years.

4.________Thought to be the heaviest insect in the world, the goliath beetle, which can weigh almost a quarter of a pound, has been observed peeling a banana while in captivity.

5._______Lacking the tiger’s usual reddish orange coloring, some zoos have black and white Bengal tigers, all of whom are descendants of a single white male tiger named Bohan, who was found in a jungle in India around the middle of this century.