I found a sentence in 'Life's like that' from Reader's digest, May 2018. In the sentence, what does the phrase 'Gettting a haircut' modify?

Getting a haircut, the barber asked me, what I do for a living.

  • 1
    It is common in conversation (and in conversational prose) to rely upon the participle's sense of ongoing action and omit while as unnecessary to convey the meaning.
    – TimR
    May 7, 2018 at 10:34

2 Answers 2


It's a dangling modifier. It shows a fairly common type of mistake.

Thinking pragmatically, 'I' was 'getting a haircut'. Given what we know about barbers, this is the only possible understanding.

However the structure of the sentence suggests 'the barber' was 'getting a haircut'! This kind of ambiguity is generally considered poor English, but can be fix by

  • As I was getting a haircut, the barber asked me... (put the subject in the phrase)
  • Getting a haircut, I was asked by the barber ... (switch between passive and active to move the modifed word to the front)
  • The barber asked me what I do for a living while he was cutting my hair (move the modifer)

It modifies no phrase. While I was getting a haircut, the barber (a man who cuts men's hair), asked me what I do for a living (what my job is). The second comma should not be there.

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