It sounds like the name of new computer virus or something you’d find in electrical wholesalers. At the very least you’d have thought you could dangle it off a shelf or ledge or even something more exciting like a flood light or giant stage set. Alas no. Dangling modifiers have a mundane role which, for most people, is not exactly glamorous. Though, to those of us who pore over texts to improve their meaning and clarity, dangling modifiers are a big deal. So, what are they? The clue is in the name. A ‘modifier’ is a word or phrase that qualifies or ‘modifies’ the sense of another word or phrase. A ‘dangling modifier’ does this, but in a way that makes the sentence ambiguous: leaving what the writer intended ‘dangling’ in the air. Here’s an example: Turning the corner sharply, the castle was seen in the distance… At first glance, this seems a reasonable sentence. We get the gist. You turn the corner and the castle pops up in the distance. Ah, but it does not actually say that. Read the sentence again. Who exactly is turning the corner and who sees the castle? You? Me? Lady Gaga? Or even Barack Obama? It does not say. The meaning of the sentence is – in fact – truly dangling. The short phrase at the start of the sentence ‘Turning the corner sharply’ does modify the sentence, but not in the way the writer intended. This is because there is no indication of who or what the modifier refers to – in other words, who or what is turning the corner. So, we editors and clarity obsessives like to un-dangle the sentence, so to speak. We do this by saying who or what is doing the turning straight after the modifier. So we might say: Turning the corner sharply, Zebedee saw the castle in the distance. Do you get it? Here’s another one. On the way to the park, the rain began pelting down. This actually means that the rain was on the way to the park, because it’s the first thing mentioned after the modifier. The sentence should be changed to say who was on the way to the park, so it could be: As we were on our way to the park, the rain began pelting down. or As Harry was on his way to the park, the rain… or As I walked to the park, the rain….. Two other examples from business communications are: Having lost the keys to the office, no work was done that day. Before arriving at the bank, the interest rate fell three more times. If you look through your own communications you may find you’re guilty of the odd dangler yourself. They are sprayed around written texts like confetti at a wedding. So, when reading though texts, make sure the meaning of every sentence is absolutely clear. Remember: de-dangle by re-modifying. And while you are at it, maybe you could modify the term ‘dangling modifier’ itself to give it more clarity for those of us who are not grammar obsessives.