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Monday Morning Essay Tip: Avoid Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

A dangling or misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that is intended to describe one thing but actually describes something else because of its placement in a sentence. Misplaced modifiers are a common mistake in MBA application essays and can be very distracting to a reader, in addition to possibly misrepresenting the writer’s intention. Although misplaced modifiers can appear anywhere in a sentence, the most common, most obvious, and (thankfully) easiest to correct are those that occur at the beginning of a sentence. Consider the following examples:

As the highest-rated professor at the school, West’s academic writings are primarily analyses of recent developments in tort law.

Even after studying all night, the test was still too difficult for John to pass.

In the first sample sentence, “the highest-rated professor at the school” is meant to describe West, but it instead refers to “West’s academic writings.” In the second example, we can assume that John was the one who studied all night, but because of the way the sentence is constructed, “the test” supposedly did the extensive studying.

To avoid these kinds of confusing constructions, make sure that the first thing you mention after a descriptive introductory phrase is what you want that phrase to describe. To correct our examples here, we could reword them as follows:

As the highest-rated professor at the school, West produces academic writings that are primarily analyses of recent developments in tort law.

Even after studying all night, John was unable to pass the test.

However, misplaced modifiers can appear anywhere within a sentence, when a phrase is juxtaposed with a different part of the sentence than is intended. Consider the following:

As I became aware of what I wanted in life, I shared my dream of starting a charitable foundation with my parents.

With this wording, the writer is saying that he dreams of starting a foundation with his parents, yet we can safely assume that the writer instead meant that he shared his dream with his parents. To correct this sentence, you could move the misplaced phrase or even reword the sentence to clarify:

As I became aware of what I wanted in life, I shared with my parents my dream of starting a charitable foundation.

As I became aware of what I wanted in life, I told my parents about my dream of starting a charitable foundation.

Always make sure your descriptive phrases are in proper proximity to the elements of your sentence that you want them to modify.




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