Dangling modifier

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Englishmypassion

Senior Member
India - Hindi
Hello learned members,
I came across the following sentences in some books and think they are a case of dangling modifiers. What do you think of them?
1. 'Based on the pictures given below, write a story that illustrates the moral "Greed is a curse".'
2. 'Based on the building materials used, houses are of two types' or 'Based on their feeding habits, animals are of two types'.
I think 'based on' here should be replaced with 'on the basis of'. What's your take? Thanks.
 
  • Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    The first sentence sounds fine, because "write" is an imperative and you will write the story based on those pictures. The sentences in (2) would work much better if they were of the form, "Based on the building materials used, houses can be classified in two types."
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hi Emp, strictly speaking you are absolutely right, but "based on" doesn't sound unnatural or unacceptable here, and there's no risk whatsoever of the sentence being misunderstood or sounding funny. Maybe we understand it as "(in the situation) based on ..." or, in (2), "(If we apply a judgement) based on ..."

    As I'm sure you know already, English grammar can sometimes appear very "loose" or "imprecise" when compared with the grammar of many other languages, some of which require an almost mathematical adherence to set rules and have some kind of "Academy" of linguistic purists to pronounce on what is "right" and what is "wrong".
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    What Enquiring Mind says is true, but only to a certain extent. I would not be surprised to hear the sentences in (2) spoken aloud by somebody in ordinary conversation, but I would certainly consider them wrong if I saw them in, for example, an encyclopedia.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I see nothing at all wrong with these sentences, which are suitable for formal or informal use.

    Sentence 1 means, in effect, "Write a story, based on the pictures given below, that illustrates the moral 'Greed is a curse'." You will base your story on the pictures. The participial phase is put first to call your attention to the pictures, which are important to the instructions. You must look at the pictures to write a story.

    Sentence 2 means, in effect, "Houses come in two types, based on the building materials used." The materials are the basis for the two types. The participial phrase is first to call attention to the materials. Look at the materials to classify houses.

    Sentence 1 looks like exam instructions, and sentence 2 looks like a sentence from an encyclopedia. Neither looks like conversation to me.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Sorry Forero, I agree more with Enquiring Mind, and Glenfarclas also sees some inconsistency in the sentences if in an encyclopaedia. As I am an editor editing coursebooks (I feel shy and nervous to say it before you all learned members and native speakers of English, but the situation demands to make it clear), I have to be correct according to bookish grammar. Sir Forero, I think they are not simple phrases to be brought to the front but participle phrases, which modify the following subject. Thus, 'Based on the pictures given below, you write a story...' Doesn't it imply you are/should be based on the story?
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Sir Glenfarclas, I think I understand what you want to say in post #2 ( bringing in or creating a scope for 'we', or rather 'us'), but I can't understand how the sentences would work better, since the subject would remain the same-- houses or animals-- and the participle would still modify it. It would be 'Based on the building materials used, houses can be classified by us into (I think 'into' is more suitable) two types'.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Sorry Forero, I agree more with Enquiring Mind, and Glenfarclas also sees some inconsistency in the sentences if in an encyclopaedia. As I am an editor editing coursebooks (I feel shy and nervous to say it before you all learned members and native speakers of English, but the situation demands to make it clear), I have to be correct according to bookish grammar. Sir Forero, I think they are not simple phrases to be brought to the front but participle phrases, which modify the following subject. Thus, 'Based on the pictures given below, you write a story...' Doesn't it imply you are/should be based on the story?
    Not at all.

    Besides, a dangling modifier does not modify anything, or modifies something not stated. Even if "based on ..." were not so common in formal writing as an introductory phrase, we might take it as a misplaced modifier, but not a dangling one.

    Now consider something like this:

    In two pages or less, write a story about the life of a mushroom.

    This obviously does not mean "You, (who are) in two pages or less, write a story...." It means "Write a story in two pages or less...." The story you write is to be in two pages or less.

    And the reason for putting the phrase in question first, despite the added distance from what it modifies, seems obvious to me. "Based on" is often brought forward to put emphasis on and attach importance to the basis for something.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Sir, 'In two pages or less, write a story...' is another case because here the introductory phrase contains no participle and hence creates no problem. As I earlier said non-participial noun, prepositional or adverbial phrases create no such problems and can be used more freely.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Sir, 'In two pages or less, write a story...' is another case because here the introductory phrase contains no participle and hence creates no problem. As I earlier said non-participial noun, prepositional or adverbial phrases create no such problems and can be used more freely.
    A dangling modifier does not have to be a participial phrase, since a prepositional phrase can be misplaced too:

    With sloping roofs, people who live in hilly areas usually have houses.

    The modifier belongs with the thing it modifies:

    People who live in hilly areas usually have houses with sloping roofs.

    So we "should" say "Write a story based on the pictures below", but in this case bringing "based on the pictures below" to the front does not, in my opinion, destroy the sense the way moving "with sloping roofs" does.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Yes, sir, any phrase can be a dangling modifier and I should have used 'a dangling participle' instead, or rather a misplaced participle as rightly pointed out by you. But what I mean is that we can use (certain) other phrases, e.g. 'In the morning', more freely than a participle phrase.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Yes, sir, any phrase can be a dangling modifier and I should have used 'a dangling participle' instead, or rather a misplaced participle as rightly pointed out by you. But what I mean is that we can use (certain) other phrases, e.g. 'In the morning', more freely than a participle phrase.
    Yes, some modifiers can be used more freely, and some participial phrases lend themselves more to being moved.

    I find it easier to imagine people with sloping roofs than to imagine you based on the pictures.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    People with sloping roofs:D! But I would still go for editing 'based on' sentences in the text for coursebooks as rigorous grammar satisfies my soul and my position also requires me to be 'bookishly' correct.
     
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