Friday, July 18, 2008

(38) Misplaced Word, Phrase, or Clause

Keep elements of a sentence related to each other as close together as possible. [REVISE]

Consider the following sentence:

Flying low over the field, the cows were startled by a plane.

The introductory “flying over the field” preceding “the cows” makes a grammatical claim that the cows are flying, not the plane.

Writers of English should be careful to avoid dangling modifiers; in other words, keeping related elements of a sentence together.

Some concerns to keep in mind:

• Be sure that introductory elements refer directly to the subject (see the sentence above).

• Be sure that references made in a sentence include everything the reader needs in that sentence; consider: “Trying to finish her essay, her weekend was ruined” completely omits who is trying to finish the essay.

• Be careful with references that might be ambiguous; consider: “Bob swore after lunch he would help us paint the room.” What was “after lunch”—the swearing or the commitment to help paint the room?

• Place “not” and “only” carefully; consider:

She did not think he was friendly. (Was she not thinking or was he unfriendly?)

He said he only wanted five volunteers. (Is the “only” about the want or the volunteers?)

For an on-line resource addressing word, phrase, and clause placement, visit: