One of the most popular subjects for our literate readership is grammar. On Monday, The Globe’s senior editor in charge of style and usage and self-described grammar gadfly, Martina Blaskovic, sent the following note to all staff: Let’s see if you can catch the errors as well. Please comment below with your thoughts. If you want to e-mail me on this or any other subject, or you want a thought passed on to Martina, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dangling (and misplaced) modifiers
I have decided to reinvent myself in this most recent message to all of you – consider me your Grammar Gadfly, ready to buzz about and pester you over common errors of grammar and usage that continue to land in our copy! Today’s lesson concerns that perennial pest – the dangling or misplaced modifier.
A dangling modifier (a specific case of which is a dangling participle) is a modifying word or a phrase that is incorrectly constructed in a sentence so that it is not clear – often with hilarious result – what it is modifying. More strictly, a dangling modifier is one in which the word it’s modifying is missing in the sentence, whereas a misplaced modifier is one that is placed far away from the word it is supposed to modify and is thereby unclear what it is referring to.
Here are some easy-to-spot examples:
After rotting in the field, the farmer pulled the remaining potatoes.
Slathered in mustard, she devoured the hot dog.
Here are some examples that aren’t so easy to spot and which have appeared in our newspaper:
1. A U.S. database flagged border agents that Mr. Arar was flying to New York, dubbing him “armed and dangerous” and a “special-interest” alien. Yet after being initially detained and interrogated by a special Joint Terrorism Task Force agency at the airport, they concluded they “had no interest in Arar as an investigative subject.”
(In this example, we of course meant to say Arar was detained and interrogated, although the construction of the sentence is such that it reads that “they” – the border agents – made a conclusion after they were detained and interrogated.)
2. Recently grounded due to illness, her eye-popping odyssey as U.S. Secretary of State has taken her to 112 countries.
(In this example, we of course mean to say it’s Hillary Clinton who was recently grounded due to illness, not her odyssey).
So please watch out for these errors and learn to look for them and correct them.