How misplaced modifiers muddle meanings

Dangling or poorly placed, these words and phrases can subvert your best efforts to clearly convey your message.

A writer recently offered this:

Minutes after walking in the door, the phone rings.

I would hazard a guess that it’s a mobile phone.

That’s an example of a dangling modifier; the construction suggests that it was the phone that walked in. Logic prevails, so we realize that’s not the case, but we don’t know who actually did the walking.

Here’s another:

Having worked in newspapers for 30 years, desktop publishing was an easy fit for Throckmorton.

We know that it was good old Throckmorton and not desktop publishing who worked in newspapers for three decades, but that’s not how the sentence reads. A better construction would be this:

Having worked in newspapers for 30 years, Throckmorton found desktop publishing an easy fit.

(Good for Throckmorton. At 6-foot-9 and 140 pounds, he has trouble buying off the rack, and an easy fit is hard to come by.)

The point is that errant positioning of modifiers can lead to ambiguity or, far worse, an outright distortion of your meaning.

Take this example:

All your employees can’t be superstars.

That tells the reader, essentially, that your workforce is middling at best.

What’s actually meant is this:

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