There’s perhaps no quicker way to confuse your readers than by the use of dangling or misplaced modifiers. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines a dangling modifier as a word or phrase “that appears from its position to modify an element of the sentence other than the one it was intended to modify.” The results can often be confusing and/or amusing.
For example, Random House offers this sentence: “Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls.” Instead of modifying Yosemite Falls, the opening clause incorrectly modifies “we.” Simply moving the clause from the beginning of the sentence to the end would convey the intended meaning.
Another example, from Strunk and White’s classic, The Elements of Style: “I saw the trailer peeking through the window.” In this case, starting this sentence with the modifying clause would eliminate the problem.
The late Groucho Marx was a master at using dangling modifiers to get some laughs. Consider this example from the 1930 Marx Brothers film, Animal Crackers: “One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”
In the August 30, 2008 issue of his excellent ezine, World Wide Words, Michael Quinion includes a wedding announcement sent to him by a subscriber. It reads: “Amber was escorted by her father wearing a strapless silk wedding gown designed by Marianne Lanting carrying a tropical floral bouquet.” Quinion adds: “Quick question: which of the three of them was holding the flowers?” (I’m sure dear old Dad looked smashing in that strapless gown.)
Michael ceased publishing his weekly ezine in 2017, but you’ll find nearly 3,000 articles about this language of ours on his website: www.worldwidewords.org.