Translating the Dangling Modifier

Open book with characters, Syllabus, Montreal, TranslationWriters and editors are hardwired to spot dangling modifiers (e.g., Commuting home from work, the subway was shut down for over an hour.). French-to-English translators should be extra vigilant on the issue because, though the same rule applies in French, it seems to be less sticky.

I often run across dangling modifiers as I translate. When I hold too close to the source language, I find these mistakes get transferred from the French text to the English one. Even when I read over my translation to make sure I got the meaning right and didn’t miss any words, I sometimes miss these grammatical glitches. Perhaps that’s because my brain is on the hunt for translation errors.

That’s why I find these slip-ups are easier to catch at the revision stage. Dangling, squinting, and misplaced modifiers seem to jump off the page when my brain is in full English mode. (One more reason why I always work with a reviser!)

As I rout out these errors, I like to remember writer Bill Bryson’s helpful advice: “There are . . . a number of participial phrases that have the effect of prepositions or conjunctions, and you may dangle them as you will without breaking any rules. They include generally speaking, concerning, regarding, judging, owing to, failing, speaking of and many others. There are also certain stock phrases and idiomatic constructions that flout the rule but are still acceptable, such as ‘putting two and two together’ and ‘getting down to brass tacks.’”

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