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If a phrase modifies a word or phrase that is not clearly given in the sentence, it is a dangling modifier; it is dangling because it does not connect with what it is supposed to. Dangling modifiers, or misplaced modifiers, are words, phrases or clauses where it is unclear which element of the sentence they are modifying, because they could either be modifying the subject or object.
Dangling modifiers can make the meaning of the sentence unclear, so they should be avoided. The subject of the main verb should be the same as the modifier in such cases.
- Having finished the homework, I went to bed. - In this sentence, it is clear that the person who finished the homework and the person who went to bed are one and the same, so it is correct.
- Having trouble sleeping, the TV helps me get through the night. - Having trouble sleeping is a dangling modifier as it appears to modify the subject, TV, though clearly the person means that they have trouble sleeping. This could easily be improved by using 'as I have trouble sleeping.'
- Arriving at the restaurant half an hour late, the table had been taken. - Here, it is not the table that arrived late, but the speaker, so this is a dangling modifier. This could be repaired by using 'we found that the table had been taken'.