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Hanging loose.

DANGLING MODIFIERS TAKE several forms, but they all stem from the same root: We put the modifier in the wrong place, and it attaches to the wrong noun or pronoun.

We find much of our humor in such unexpected connections, which is why Columbia Journalism Review's "Lower Case" takes a high percentage of its examples from danglers.

The several varieties of danglers flow from the several varieties of modifiers. An entire subordinate clause can serve as a modifier, and so an entire subordinate clause can dangle. ("Horse kicks man that bit mayor.") Participial phrases work as adjectives, so they can dangle too. ("Last-minute substitute drowns leading students on coast trail.") Prepositional phrases modify. And prepositional phrases dangle. ("Jury acquits man of strangling woman over lack of evidence.") So do plain old adjectives and adverbs. ("Crowd keeps police from stabbing victim.")

So what's the cure? As with most problems, another set of eyes offers the surest safeguard. We allow modifiers to dangle because we know what we mean. So we ignore what we've actually written. But our copy editors, unaware of our original intent, see what's really there and catch most dangling modifiers.

Nonetheless, it all starts with the writer. And careful writers short-stop most danglers by being aware of the clauses, phrases and words that serve as modifiers in their copy. When they spot one, they immediately look for a nearby antecedent. If the nearest verb, noun or pronoun isn't the intended anchor for the modifier, they start looking for ways to recast the sentence. Here are a few they missed:

* "Although still listed on the Multnomah County tax rolls as belonging to Donna E. Tunison of Northeast Portland, William Peek, an attorney for the Tunison trust, said .... "

(If you own a human being in this day and age, you'll probably have to pay taxes on him.)

* "Writing alone in the intense silence of a cozy cabin east of Gold Hill, Sandra deHelen's pencil rasps with an eerie loudness across the paper."

(We all should have such a pencil.)

* "Horse camps offer all the usual modern camp amenities like fireplaces, plus corrals for horse equipped with framing to add plastic tarps during rainstorms."

(When you buy the horse, do you pay extra for the framing?)

* "Pop megastar Michael Jackson revealed he has a disorder that destroys his skin pigmentation and insisted he had 'very little' plastic surgery during a live television interview with Oprah Winfrey on Wednesday."

(Plastic surgery during a live interview would be a first, even for Oprah.)

* "The city entered negotiations with nearly all of its union employees advocating a one-year wage freeze."

(The union of a manager's dreams.)

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Title Annotation:dangling modifiers
Author:Hart, Jack
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 12, 1994
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