More danglers

At the end of spring semester — that is to say, before many of you arrived at CUNY —  a grab bag of a post on this blog included a section on danglers. As I explained then:

“Dangle” means “to hang loosely,” according to merriamwebster.com. In English, a dangling modifier — dangler for short — is an adjective or a phrase that hangs loosely on a sentence, generally because it’s misplaced. Remember last fall’s post on pronouns and antecedents, which stressed that the link between them must always be clear? The same applies to danglers.

As you become more comfortable writing in English, you’re probably writing more complex sentences using subordinate clauses — those clauses beginning with words like that, which, who, whose, when, where, etc. that add definitions or descriptions.  Complex sentences are especially prone to danglers, as several students have learned this semester.

 

On a small folding table against a wall in the dining room, she placed two hats whose brims were attached with hair, one in red and another in beige.

This sentence is not entirely clear: what was red and beige, the hats or the hair? Move the descriptive phrase closer to what it modifies:

On a small folding table against a wall in the dining room, she placed two hats, one in red and another in beige,  whose brims were attached with hair.

Or even tighter:

On a small folding table against a wall in the dining room, she placed two hats, one in red and another in beige,  whose brims were attached with hair.

 

The next example is a quote:

“After working for Ixia since 2004 and having been promoted to CEO last year, the board saw fit to fire Mr. Alston for misstating age and academic credentials,” Robison said in his report.

Robison didn’t mean the board had worked for Ixia and been promoted, as the sentence implies; he meant Alston had. A good journalist wouldn’t reword a quote, but it’s a shame no one seems to have edited Robison’s report. Here’s what he might have written:

After Mr. Alston had worked for Ixia since 2004 and been promoted to CEO last year, the board saw fit to fire him for misstating age and academic credentials.

 

The more complex the sentence, the more likely danglers will sneak in:

Starting operation as an HIV/AIDS service organization, God’s Love has evolved into a provider of meals and nutritional advice for patients living with more than 200 severe diseases, in which its volunteers cook and home deliver the food.

Let’s do a dangler check.  Starting operation as an HIV/AIDS service organization, God’s Love has evolved . . . ?  Was it God’s Love (We Deliver) that started as an HIV/AIDS organization? Yes, so that’s fine. How about  . . . nutritional advice for patients living with more than 200 severe diseases, in which its volunteers cook and home deliver the food? Hmmmm. Are the volunteers cooking and delivering the food in the diseases? I think not. Better (and with a little editing):

Having started operation as an HIV/AIDS service organization, God’s Love has evolved into a provider of meals and nutritional advice. Its volunteers cook and home-deliver the food to patients living with more than 200 severe diseases.

 

As Mariana Marcaletti so charmingly put it during office hours when we talked about danglers, “The connection is not properly done.” That’s right: the connection between modifier (in these cases, all clauses) and what it modifies is not made properly. When you write, make sure it is. Pick your sentences apart; read them aloud to see if the meaning is clear. If they make you laugh, rewrite.

 

 

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