“Swimming happily, the corpse floated by his head.”
Ok-what’s wrong with that statement? It seems to say that the corpse is swimming happily, which is a rather odd thing for corpses to do.
The problem is that the introductory phrase is a dangling modifier. This means that the subject (stated or implied) of the introductory adverbial phrase doesn’t match the subject of the sentence.
In the example above, the subject of the main sentence is “the corpse.” However, the implied subject of the introductory phrase “swimming happily” is he. Because they aren’t the same, we, the readers, are left with a rather strange image.
Without having any additional clues about the subject, the reader will assume that the subject of the introductory phrase is the same as the subject of the main sentence. This is why why the corpse seems to swimming happily.
Here’s another: “As a professor of economics, the plan is likely to succeed.”
This seems to imply that the plan is a professor. That’s odd, too. The subject of the main sentence is “plan,” so without any clues to tell us differently, we assume that the subject of the introductory phrase is also “plan,” making “plan” a professor of economics.
Even if we had the clues, however, the phrase would still dangle because the subjects would be different. That’s what a dangling modifier is: an introductory phrase or clause that doesn’t have the same subject (implied or stated) as the main sentence.
Thus, to fix these dangling modifiers, we need to make the subject (implied or stated) of the introductory phrase the same as the subject of the main sentence. Here are possible revisions for the above examples.
“While swimming happily, he saw a corpse float by his head.”
“As a professor of economics, I believe that the plan is likely to succeed.”
Do you know any dangling modifers that amuse you? Have you heard any dangling modifiers or seen any in print (hint, listen to CNN)? Please share below!