Keep Your Memoirs Free of Dangling Modifiers

Today I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I’ll never know. That old Groucho Marx joke perfectly illustrates what a dangling or misplaced modifier is. Many of you memoir writers have never written professionally or formally studied writing. To help you with your writing challenges, I promised this blog would address tricky grammar issues from time to time. So welcome to English class!

How could you rephrase Groucho’s statement to make it less ambiguous? Today, while still in my pajamas, I shot an elephant. That removes the ambiguity. While writing your memoirs, you might have a sentence like this: Not yet 10 years old, my parents’ divorce hit me hard. Do you see why that opening phrase dangles? The word you need after the comma must be “I??? to explain who was not yet 10 years old. The way it’s written, the divorce is what’s 10 years old.

Here’s another example: Walking through the dirty puddles, our shorts were splashed with clumps of mud. That indicates that your shorts were walking through the puddles, when really you were the ones walking. To fix it, you’d say: Walking through the dirty puddles, we splashed clumps of mud on our shorts. Learning this rule will help you to make your memoirs clear for the reader. For more on misplaced modifiers, check this link at