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1- I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk walking down the street. (While I was walking down the street)

2- She was also attending to her email talking on the phone. (While she was talking on the phone)

I have found a website which says that those examples above are wrong because of the misplaced modifiers. I don't understand why they are considered wrong since those participles clearly modifies the subject of their sentences (I and she).

As far as I know, these sentences below considered correct but can't understand the difference between 3 , 4 and 1 , 2

3- A man ran out of the house shouting. (While he was shouting)

4- Joe hurt his knee playing football. (While he was playing)

Why in the 3 and 4, we don't see any problem? Maybe "knee" was playing football or the "house" was shouting?

  • I'd say that while is used to refer to something that was happening in the background at the same time as whatever it is you are focusing happened. That's not really the point of sentence 4, which tells us how Joe hurt his knee. While would imply that playing football was just something that was going on at the time, whereas the speaker is trying to say that it was the cause of the injury. Similarly, 3) is not describing one thing that happened to be going on in the background when another took place, but presenting the shouting and the running out of the house as aspects of one event... – user96060 Jun 12 at 9:26
  • So you agree 1 and 2 are wrong? I don't understand why they are considered wrong since those participles clearly modifies the subject of their sentences (I and she). If they are wrong can I correct them by putting comma. As in " I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk, walking down the street. – Talha Özden Jun 12 at 9:31
  • ... the problem with 2) is not really to do with while - it's to do with the tenses and the position of also. She replied to his email, talking on the phone is not wrong for me, although while talking on the phone or ...., talking all the while on the phone wpuld be better. The point here is that the background activity did not stop. What about 1)? For me the walking down the street is not merely something else that was going on at the time - it was only because the person was walking down the street that he found the money - so I don't think while really belongs in that sentence. – user96060 Jun 12 at 9:33
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The point of misplaced modifiers is that they make the parsing of the sentence ambiguous. You say that the participles modify the subjects of the sentences ("I and she"), but the problem is that those aren't the explicit subjects of the sentence.

Interpretation #1:

1. I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk walking down the street.
→ I was walking down the street.

2. She was also attending to her email talking on the phone.
→ She was walking down the street.

That's all fine, and it makes sense. But the syntax of the sentence is such that the following interpretation is also possible—and it might make sense in a fantasy world where such events can actually occur.

Interpretation #2:

1. I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk walking down the street.
→ The hundred dollar bill was walking down the street.

2. She was also attending to her email talking on the phone.
→ Her email was talking on the phone.

Aside from common sense, there is nothing syntactical that can let you determine who or what was walking down the street or who or what was talking on the phone.

When you have a misplaced modifier, the subject is ambiguous. In these cases, it's fairly obvious who the subjects are that are doing the walking and talking. But consider different sentences where it's not nearly as obvious:

1. I found Sam on the sidewalk walking down the street.
→ Who was walking down the street—you or Sam?

2. She was also attending to her fiance talking on the phone.
→ Who was talking on the phone—her or her fiance?


Sentences with misplaced modifiers are syntactical, but the subjects of the verbs can be ambiguous, leading to either humorous misinterpretation or outright confusion.


Note that these sentences can be have the misplaced modifiers removed, thereby removing any ambiguity or misinterpretation. This can be done either by simply inserting while or by rephrasing them entirely:

1. I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk while walking down the street. OR
1. I was walking down the street when I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk.

2. She was also attending to her email while talking on the phone. OR
2. She was talking on the phone and also attending to her email.

  • + Why in the 3 and 4, we don't see any problem? Maybe "knee" was playing football or the "house" was shouting? – Talha Özden Jun 12 at 18:31
  • Great answer, thanks. I have some questions though. "I found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk walking down the street". Can we interpret that "sidewalk was walking down the street" in this fantasy world? – Talha Özden Jun 12 at 18:53
  • @TalhaÖzden Yes, it's also possible that you could interpret it as the sidewalk doing the walking. Sentence 4 uses a transitive verb, so what follows his needs to be the object of the sentence, not a second subject. (In theory, especially with a hyphen, you could interpret knee-playing football as the entire object.) So while still strange, it wouldn't be a misplaced modifier. As for house shouting, I suppose it could be thought of as a dangling modifier too. It would be more clearly that if it were the house shouting the news. The lack of qualification just makes it less likely. – Jason Bassford Jun 12 at 20:23
  • Sorry I have to ask it again because I really want to understand this well. Okay I get it, ıf I used this one "She was also attending to her email talking on the phone. ", native speakers would consider it funny and want me to rephrase it. But I really don't see any difference between 2 and 4 in terms of syntax? Why you want me to rephrase it 2 while don't consider 4 fine? – Talha Özden Jun 12 at 20:37

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