When corpses go swimming

“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!


Filed under Editing, Mechanics, OOPS!

3 responses to “When corpses go swimming

  1. (All pulled from actual news copy)

    “[Sen. Jeff] Sessions represents Mobile, Ala., a city founded by French explorers, who are celebrating the most.”

    “Now 90 and the owner of an appliance company in Atlanta, Gunter’s glider was towed in by airplane and released over the German lines where it came to earth inside France.”

    “Since joining the center as a graduate student, it has grown from a staff of three to six.”

    “As a student, some who knew Nidal Malik Hasan said…”

    “As the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, Mr. Obama says the government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone.”

    “Detained last spring on baseless charges of espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic, their trial with a pre-ordained ending has started.”

    “Charged with stirring up all the unrest sweeping the country today, the safety of Iran’s 300,000 Bahai’s is in serious jeopardy.”

    “The shooting happened around 2 a.m. Saturday morning outside of the Coconuts Cafe’ in Mount Vernon. Once voted the best lesbian bar in Baltimore, the violence sparked after an incident on the dance floor.” (Thanks, Pete)

  2. So…Obama is the single largest energy consumer? I didn’t know that! /snicker

    These are great! Thanks.

  3. bank accounts offshore

    ….I have found the following sentence in a local newspaper…..Seven hours after the bombing the acrid smell of smoke still hung.thick in the air….I understand that the phrase Seven hours after the bombing serves as.an adverbial phrase modifying the verb hung. From what i.know a nominative form doesnt serve an adverbial function or can.it? ….Now is it that there is a missing ellipted prepostion or is the.sentence grammatcially incorrect?…For example ….I returned Sunday morning..- here sunday morning serves an adverbial function but takes a.nominative form. The one time I looked is a.noun phrase functioning as an adverb. …Note that in all of these cases a noun one that would normally be.used in the nominative is doing the job of an adverb.

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