dangling modifier

When it's unclear in your sentence which noun an adjective is meant to describe, you've made the mistake of using a dangling modifier. The sentence, "Torn and paint-spattered, Matteo pulled on the t-shirt" gives the impression that Matteo was torn and paint-spattered, not his shirt.

When you use a dangling modifier, you've structured a sentence so that a modifier (a word or phrase, usually an adjective or adverb, that describes something) either hangs there without any word to modify, or seems to be modifying the wrong word. Generally speaking, modifiers describe the noun to which they're closest — which is why, in the example above, the adjectives seem to modify "Matteo." A correction might read "Matteo pulled on his torn and paint-spattered t-shirt."

Definitions of dangling modifier
  1. noun
    a word or phrase apparently modifying an unintended word because of its placement in a sentence: e.g., `when young' in `when young, circuses appeal to all of us'
    synonyms: misplaced modifier
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    dangling participle
    a participle (usually at the beginning of a sentence) apparently modifying a word other than the word intended: e.g., `flying across the country' in `flying across the country the Rockies came into view'
    type of:
    modifier, qualifier
    a content word that qualifies the meaning of a noun or verb
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