Conventions of Composition Rule 170

Rules: The position of a modifier should be sufficiently near what it modifies to avoid even temporary ambiguity. In case of ambiguity rearrange or rewrite; do not try to mend the fault by commas. If you begin a sentence with a modifier, the first word after the comma should be the thing/person described in the modifier.

Note: A modifier of a verb may often with perfect clearness stand before the subject, as: With a great effort he raised the beam he had thrown down.

Note: Many careful writers avoid the split infinitive (as to really believe, to not know). The construction isn't wrong, but since many people believe it to be wrong, you might as well place the intruding modifier elsewhere. The infinitive is not “split” unless the intruding modifier comes directly after the to. You might want to listen to this fun episode of Grammar Girl to learn more about split infinitives.


Wrong: He blew out his brains after tenderly bidding his wife good-bye with a shotgun.

Better: After tenderly bidding his wife good-bye he blew out his brains with a shotgun.

Wrong: Having reached the top, the cool wind revived us.

Wrong: Upon reaching the top, the cool wind revived us.

Wrong: When at the top, the cool wind revived us.

Better: When we had reached the top, the cool wind revived us.

Wrong: Having gotten horrible reviews, Antonio doesn't want to see the movies in Millerton.

Better: Antonio no longer wants to go to Millerton to see the movies, which got horrible reviews.

Practice revising the sentences below so that they have clear modifier placement:

  1. Walking with his head down, the ladder still smacked Julien.

  2. We loved looking at the new outfit on the baby, which had a cute flowered pattern.

  3. If you want to never have to go to detention, start by getting enough sleep.

  4. In Wang Wei's and Jose's brand new outfits, Maxime thought they looked great.

Resources for further explanations of misplaced and dangling modifiers:

Web App's Avoiding Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

University of Wisconsin-Madison's The Best Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers of All Time