While I understand the rules for handling misplaced/dangling participial phrases at the beginning of a sentence, I'm more than a bit fuzzy on the rules for sentence-ending phrases. I have reviewed several grammar texts, but most avoid the subject altogether. The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference gave misplaced/dangling modifiers brief consideration, but their explanation left me with more questions than answers.
Is it a hard and fast rule that a modifier (word, phrase, or clause) is misplaced if it is not directly before or after the noun it is intended to modify? While Writer's Digest suggests that as a rule, it doesn't seem to make sense when applied to sentences with direct objects. In each example below the meaning (I think) is clear. The participial phrase refers to the subject noun instead of the closer direct object noun. The order could be rearranged to bring the phrase closer to the subject, but the result would sound stilted. Thanks in advance for any help on this subject!
John ate the last piece of cake, savoring each delicious bite.
The robber turned the corner, running into an off duty police officer.
Sara placed each of the scrolls in her backpack, giving each message its due reverence.
That's just it: The meaning is not clear when a participial phrase or a relative clause is not placed next to the noun it modifies. I think the phrases are misplaced and would rewrite the sentences. Just my opinion.
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Welcome to English Forums, Reaver!
1. John ate the last piece of cake, savoring each delicious bite.
2. The robber turned the corner, running into an off duty police officer.
3. Sara placed each of the scrolls in her backpack, giving each message its due reverence.
These seem fine to me: the participle clauses don't dangle, as their subjects match the subjects of the main clauses.
If you moved the participle clause in #1, it would sound mannered; if you moved it in #2, it wouldn't make sense; and in #3, it would create an ambiguity.
And as cakes don't savour, corners don't run, and backpacks don't behave reverentially, there's no chance of confusion.
Only my opinion too, though!
I also posted this dilemma over at the grammar curmudgeon: http://www.grammarmudge.cityslide.com/board/board_topic/1268580/137611.htm
Grammar Curmudgeon If it is "a hard and fast rule that a modifier (word, phrase, or clause) is misplaced if it is not directly before or after the noun it is intended to modify," it certainly comes as a surprise to me, especially with regard to participial phrases.
That would mean that the only correct way to write your first example would be: "Savoring each delicious bite, John ate the last piece of cake" or "John, savoring each delicious bite, ate the last piece of cake" (awkward). It would make your example incorrect, which it is not. The same would apply to your other two examples. I see nothing misplaced about the modifier in: "John ate the last piece of cake, savoring each delicious bite." Nor do I see any misplaced modifier in your other sentences, though I would rephrase the second: "The robber turned the corner and ran into an off-duty police officer" or "Turning the corner, the robber ran into the an off-duty police officer." What would be a misplaced modifier is: "The robber ran into the off-duty police officer, turning the corner." Who is turning the corner?
The only practical "rule" that I can think suggest with reference to sentence-ending modifying phrases is that there must be no doubt about what they modify – i.e., there must be no opportunity to construe the modifier as applying to something else in the sentence. As the example with the robber and the policeman illustrates, clarity depends as much on the context of the sentence as it does on the positioning of the modifier. Certainly, though, it is not a rule that a sentence-ending participial phrase must be immediately after the noun that it modifies (and it cannot be before the noun it modifies because, after all, it is a sentence-ending modifier).
Perhaps you need a better grammar reference than The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference.
MrPedanticWelcome to English Forums, Reaver!
These seem fine to me: the participle clauses don't dangle, as their subjects match the subjects of the main clauses. And as cakes don't savour, corners don't run, and backpacks don't behave reverentially, there's no chance of confusion.
Thank you for the welcome, and the opinion.
The meaning is clear. Participial phrases working as a modifier (unlike relative clauses working as a modifier) modify the entire preceding phrase, not necessarily the closest noun.