Legal Writing Syntax: Dangling Modifiers

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Dangling modifiers aren’t just a grammar faux pas; they’re loose threads that can unravel the meaning of your sentence. Review the tips below to ensure that misplaced modifiers don’t cloud the meaning of your sentence with misplaced modifiers!

Dangling Modifier:

  • What Is a Dangling Modifier? A dangling modifier occurs when (1) a modifying word or phrase is misplaced; or (2) the subject of a modifying word or phrase is absent from the sentence.
  • Example: “Exhausted from the long day, the couch was a welcoming sight.”
    • Explanation: Was the couch exhausted from a long day? Well possibly, but presumably no. The speaker is exhausted. Yet the speaker is nowhere to be found in the sentence. To avoid this dangling modifier, one potential rewrite would be “Exhausted from the long day, I found the couch to be a welcoming sight.”

Fixing Dangling Modifiers:

  1. Rephrase the sentence to clearly identify the subject or object being modifier.
    • Dangling Modifier: Hoping to garner favor, my parents were unimpressed with the gift.
    • Correction: I was hoping to garner favor, but my parents were unimpressed with the gift.
  2. Rearrange the sentence to establish a logical connection between the modifier and the intended element.
    • Dangling Modifier: Running for the bus, my bag fell to the ground.
    • Correction: My bag fell to the ground as I was running for the bus.
  3. Introduce the subject or object explicitly to remove any ambiguity.
    • Dangling Modifier: Looking at the sunset, her eyes were filled with tears.
    • Correction: As she looked at the sunset, her eyes were filled with tears.

Steeped in the learnings from this legal writing lesson, you’re now poised to tackle practice problems!

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1. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? A distinctive memory device that does not rely on association, the use of cue categorization improves recall rates in controlled studies by enhancing familiarity judgment and boosting recollective recall.

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2. In the next sentence, which of the underlined words or phrases, if any, has an error? Although not alleged to be part of the conspiracy, the Government also claims that in 2010 Mr. McDonnell “put [Mr. Williams] in contact with the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources” and that he appeared at a Star event in February 2011, where he “made brief remarks in support of Star Scientific to the doctors and health professionals in attendance.”

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3. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? After reopening a closed case from nearly a decade ago, new evidence has been uncovered by the police suggesting that the unsolved murder happened several hours earlier than they had previously believed.

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4. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? No matter how relevant they may be to understanding the material, students often treat required readings like an unappetizing chore rather than an opportunity to learn.

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