The dangling modifier and muddled thinking

Can you spot what's wrong with this sentence?

Despite announcing record sales, Apple’s share price fell 10% yesterday.

It was the original opening line of a blog post I published the other week. The moment I pressed “publish” I realised, with horror, that the sentence would have Lynn Truss types fizzing with disgust.

If you’re of an editorial disposition, you’ll recognise my mistake as a dangling modifier. If you’re not editorially inclined – and you didn’t instantly spot my error – read on.

By the end of this post, you’ll be able to impress the sort of people who are impressed with themselves for knowing about things called dangling modifiers.

Look at my original sentence again:

Despite announcing record sales, Apple’s share price fell 10% yesterday.

Read literally, this sentence says the share price announced the record sales, which, of course, is nonsensical.

We say the phrase despite announcing record sales is left dangling because it isn’t logically attached to the second part of the sentence, Apple’s share price fell 10% yesterday.

To fix the error, I had to make Apple rather than Apple’s share price the subject (that is, the thing doing the verb) of the second half of the sentence.

So I hurriedly rewrote my original as:

Despite announcing record sales, Apple experienced a 10% fall in its share price yesterday.

I needn't have felt too bad about my mistake, because dangling modifiers are everywhere. For example, I often get letters from my local concert hall beginning:

As one of our regular visitors, I would like to invite you to…

Again, read literally, the sentence implies the author of the letter is the regular visitor, which I suspect is not what they mean.

A simple fix might be to say:

As you are one of our regular visitors, I would like to invite you to…

And yesterday's BBC online report on the Baftas contained this rather confused sentence:

However, despite going into the awards with 10 nominations, Day-Lewis's prize was Lincoln's sole success.

This sentence implies that Day-Lewis's prize had 10 nominations, not the film Lincoln. More correct might have been:

However, Day-Lewis's prize was the only success for Lincoln, which went into the awards with 10 nominations.

Does it matter if you dangle?

Style guides rail against the dangling modifier because it supposedly confuses readers. I’m not so sure.

Did my uncorrected first sentence really leave you baffled by the idea of a sentient share price going around announcing things?

Were you in any doubt who was the regular visitor to the concert hall?

Did you really assume Daniel Day-Lewis's Bafta was nominated for 10 Baftas?

If you heard any of those sentences in daily conversation would you stop the speaker and ask for clarification? I’m fairly sure you wouldn’t (unless, of course, you’re a pedantic prescriptivist with no manners).


1. Even professional writers make mistakes. Everyone needs a second pair of eyes on their work.

2. Get a third pair of eyes if you can. A colleague also missed my dangler.

3. Dangling modifiers are easy to use, but also easy to fix.

4. Dangling modifiers are hard to spot, so train your eyes and ears to pick up on them.

5. Try not to dangle, but don’t worry too much if you do. Most of the time, we’ll still know what you’re trying to say.

6. Dangling modifiers don't muddle readers. But some might think they’re a sign of muddled thinking, so fix them when you can.

7. Just knowing the phrase dangling modifier gives you editorial credibility. For Lynn Truss clout, take every opportunity to tut over other people’s danglers.