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I've been spotting what seems to me misplaced modifiers in professional writing, so I would love to get some tips on the following examples:

  1. He'd sit until the last moment, watching them draw near.

Isn't "watching them draw near" modifying he? Then shouldn't it come at the very beginning of the sentence? It looks misplaced, but I'm doubting myself since the sentence was in a story written by a professional writer.

  1. There is the sound of rain on the roof, intensifying, hammering at the gutters.

Is it okay if the participle and the noun are separated by a prepositional phrase?

  1. my spirits are dreadful, owing entirely to the Horrors of every night

It seems to me that in this case, the participial clause is describing the state of my spirits being dreadful. Is it possible for a participial phrase to describe not just one word, but the entire clause?

  1. The number of new UC students from other states and nations will continue to increase this fall, extending a trend that university officials say is financially necessary...

This seems to have a similar usage as above.

Would love any kind of input!

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    why did this get down voted? It is always so unhelpful when a newcomer posts their first post only to get down voted without a comment as to why. This seems like a legit question to me. – Howard Pautz Sep 23 '14 at 3:11
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    I agree, it is a fine question. – Cerberus Sep 23 '14 at 3:50
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Examples 1 watching and 2 intensifying, hammering are not dangling participles, because the position of the participle generally doesn't matter, so long as it modifies that which it is intended to modify. And that it does.

Example 3 is about owing, which is now often considered a preposition rather than a participle (the original participle has changed or ossified into a preposition), in which case it is fine.

If you still consider owing in that sense a participle, then you are right: it is technically dangling, because it is intended to modify a clause or thought while in fact participles can only modify constituents (usually the subject). The same (minus the "preposition' bit) applies to 4 extending.


Note that a relative clause with which can refer to a clause or thought as its antecedent:

The number of new UC students from other states and nations will continue to increase this fall, which extends a trend that university officials say is financially necessary...

When it does so, one can perhaps say that it does not modify anything at all, just as any other pronoun that is used substantively (= non-attributively/adjectivally).


However, a participle dangling like 4 extending is perhaps not always a problem, stylistically. I suspect opinions are divided.

  • Would have given this +1 for a fine explanation, but that use of problematic grates badly (no doubt in another generation it will be fine). – TimLymington Sep 23 '14 at 9:21
  • @TimLymington: Hey, I came home drunk and it was 6 AM... – Cerberus Sep 23 '14 at 11:21
  • @TimLymington what's wrong with 'problematic'? – Mitch Sep 23 '14 at 12:35
  • @Mitch: In English it still means "questionable or doubtful" rather than "causing problems", as English teachers never tire of pointing out. I understand that in American the meaning is shifting. – TimLymington Sep 23 '14 at 16:45
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    @HowardPautz: Mmm not editing, merely writing an answer. And tonight it's only 2:45! – Cerberus Sep 24 '14 at 0:46

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