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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Misplaced Modifiers Should Be Sent to Lost and Found

Rushing out into the street, he caught the puppy, wearing only a bathrobe and pajamas.  Uh-oh!  I didn't realize puppies wore bathrobes or pajamas.

 Do some of these sentences look correct to you? 
     1.  There is an Egyptian bracelet in a local museum that is four thousand years old.
     2.  Mary rushed to the airport as the Los Angeles plane arrived and grabbed a malted milk.
     3.  I found a book about Virginia Woolf written by her husband at a garage sale.

 If you said yes to any of these sentences, then you may have some misplaced modifiers in your writing, and during revision, should look a little more closely at this particular thing.  All three of the sentences above contain misplaced modifiers and need to be revised. 

In the sentence The tense hunter watched the raging lion come charging at him while readying his bow and arrow, the reader might think the lion owned the bow and arrow.  Successful writers make their meanings clear.  Misplaced modifiers are obstacles to understanding, so a writer needs to place phrase and clause modifiers as near as possible to the words they modify.

Here's one more example:

Confusing      We listened breathlessly to the stories told by Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights, munching peanuts and crackers.

Clear     Munching peanuts and crackers, we listened breathlessly to the stories told by Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights.

But what are dangling modifiers?  Everyone's heard of them.

A modifying phrase or clause must clearly and sensibly modify a word in the sentence.  When there is no word that the phrase or clause can modify, the modifier is said to dangle.

Example:     Eating my dinner quietly, the explosion made me jump up.  (Was the explosion eating dinner?  Who was eating dinner?  The sentence doesn't say.)

Corrected:  Eating my dinner quietly, I jumped up when I heard the explosion.

            or:  While I was eating my dinner quietly, the explosion made me jump up.

Example:  To finish her paper on time, Mary's weekend was spent in the library.

Corrected:   So that Mary could finish her paper on time, her weekend was spent in the library.

     or:         To finish her paper on time, Mary spent her weekend in the library.

*Note:  A few dangling modifiers have become accepted in idiomatic expressions.
     Generally speaking, Americans are living longer.
     To be honest, the party was rather boring.

I hope this posting helps everyone who misplaces or dangles their modifiers :)

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Have you seen the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why Commas Really Do Matter? Another way to write that phrase gives your reader a totally different meaning: Eats shoots and leaves.