Often I stumble upon a great article that I feel every writer should read. Author Carolynn Carey graciously consented to share one valuable piece with us. Isn't networking great -- as well as her cover? ~ Donnell
Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles: We’ve all heard of them and most of us have figured out what they are, but we continue to write them anyway because— Well, heck, we know what our sentences mean. Shouldn’t everyone else figure it out too?
Well, no. Even if readers know what you mean, chances are that a misplaced modifier will pull them out of your story, which is the last thing you want.
So how do we recognize a misplaced modifier? After you are thoroughly familiar with the concept, your ear will alert you to misplaced modifiers.
But if you haven’t reached that stage yet, try this simple trick. When you write an introductory phrase such as “After marinating in the fridge overnight,…” pay particular attention to the next noun or pronoun. If you write, “After marinating in the fridge overnight, I put the steaks on the grill,” then you must be both cold and tenderized. Sure, we all know that it was the steaks that marinated in the fridge overnight, but that isn’t what you said.
You could just as easily write, “After I marinated the steaks in the fridge overnight, I put them on the grill.” Or “After the steaks marinated in the fridge overnight, I put them on the grill.” Or, “I marinated the steaks in the fridge overnight and then put them on the grill.”
This type of mistake is fairly common. Recently I read an academic paper in which the author wrote, “Although far from ideal, we…” In the remainder of the sentence, the author talked about the conditions in which she and other researchers had been working. As a reader, I knew she meant the conditions were far from ideal, but what she had actually said was that the researchers were far from ideal—a bit of unintended self-deprecation I assume.
And dangling participles are especially troublesome, especially if taken out of context. Take, for example, the following sentence from the local television news: “Having cut his foot on the broken glass, the dog tracked the thief.” Only if you heard the rest of the story could you know for sure whether the dog or the thief ended up with a cut foot. (It was the thief.)
So when you proof your manuscript, keep an eye out for misplaced modifiers and if you find one, rewrite your sentence.
© Carolynn Carey
Carolynn Carey is a retired academic editor who is fascinated by the ever-changing English language, as evidenced in her blog (http://carolynnongrammar.blogspot.com). Her interest in language includes fiction writing, specifically romance, and she first sold two traditional romances to Avalon Books. Next, Cerridwen Press published her traditional Regency, Compromising Situations, which won a National Reader's Choice Award. This was followed by her women's fiction, Lilly for a Day, set in a daylily farm in Tennessee, and by a Regency novella that was part of an anthology in December 2008. Carolynn is currently working on a single title contemporary and another Regency.