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Chamber 03

Mutilating Modifiers and Damaging Dirty Dangling Participles

 

MUTILATED, MISPLACED AND MISSING MODIFIERS…UNATTACHED PRONOUNS
AND DISTANCED ANTECEDENTS...DIRTY DANGLING PARTICIPLES…AND OTHER MESSY MOUTHFULS
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By popular request, Raya’s Dungeon is featuring a selection of side-splitting and highly inaccurate offerings to illustrate what exactly a misplaced modifier, unattached pronoun, and a dangling participle are.

Before we dive into our mirthful mayhem, let’s take a look at what writing is supposed to do. Anyone? Anyone know what writing is supposed to do? hmmmmm…yes, entertain, that’s a good one. Yup, inform. But what is the basic thing that writing needs to achieve. YES!!! oh yes!! *pumps fist in the air* COMMUNICATE…the more clearly the better. If we don’t communicate, we don’t…really, we don’t exist. We can do all we want but where is the satisfaction unless we communicate? Humans are social creatures and, without communication, our existence is solitary and to some extent unfulfilling.

And us writers…we are the communicators. So let’s all repeat the hippocratic oath of writing…I promise to excise dirty dangling participles, to exterminate uncoordinated clauses and massacre misplaced modifiers. Good!!! Now on to finding out what these miscreants are.

Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers

A modifier is anything that gives some details about something else. I won’t go into whether it is adjectival or adverbial or even noun phrase modifiers, because I can hear the bodies hitting the floor as I even mention them. Instead, let’s resort to hormones…good old standbys:

Modifiers are like teenagers: they fall in love with whatever they're next to. Make sure they're next to something they ought to modify!

Put another way, make the meaning clear, so that your readers don’t fall out of their chairs laughing, especially when you didn't MEAN to be funny.

Here are some examples of what we’re talking about. Study each sentence in yellow for a minute, try and figure out WHY it’s funny, and see if you can come up with a better sentence than I have in small print beneath the original. By all means, drop me a line here to let me know how much you’re getting out of mending mutilated modifiers. (And by the way, ALL the examples are advertisements or signs taken from real life…so don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one who does it ).

A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food expertly served by waitresses in appetizing forms. (So don’t drool on the waitresses.)
A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food in appetizing forms, expertly served by our waitresses. (Okay, I got a little creative here, but the meaning is much clearer now, albeit not quite so funny.)

For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers. (What a picture!)
For sale: an antique desk with thick legs and large drawers, suitable for lady.

Wanted. Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink. (Good lord, what are the other cows like?)
Wanted. Man who does not smoke or drink, to take care of cow.

Have several very old dresses from grandmother in beautiful condition. (Way to go, granny!)
Have several very old dresses in beautiful condition from grandmother.

Mixing bowl set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating. (Nothing like beating those round-bottomed cooks!)
Mixing bowl set designed with round bottom for efficient beating to please a cook.

3-year-old teacher need for pre-school. Experience preferred. (Talk about Doogie Howser! Okay, okay, forget the reference, you get the drift.)
Pre-school teacher needed for 3-year-olds. Experience preferred.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community. (Don’t go away mad, k?)
Remember in prayer the many of our church and community who are sick.

On a New York convalescent home: "For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church." (I remember them. They didn’t go very far, did they?)
On a New York convalescent home: “For Episcopal Church parishioners who are tired and sick.” (This one is tricky…I would actually rewrite this whole thing, but I suspect they wanted to conserve space).

Notice sent to residents of a Whiltshire parish: DUE TO INCREASING PROBLEMS WITH LETTER LOUTS AND VANDALS WE MUST ASK ANYONE WITH RELATIVES BURIED IN THE GRAVEYARD TO DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP THEM IN ORDER. (Nothing worse than hootenannies in the graveyard -- and what the heck is a letter lout??)
DUE TO INCREASING PROBLEMS WITH LETTER LOUTS AND VANDALS, WE MUST ASK ANYONE WITH RELATIVES BURIED IN THE GRAVEYARD TO DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP THE GRAVE PLOTS IN ORDER.

I bet you get the idea by now. All of the above examples were misplaced modifiers.

Missing or Mutilated Modifiers

The following are examples of missing or mutilated modifiers, again all from real life signs, ads or notices:

Dinner Special -- Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00. (I don’t think I want to eat here anymore.)
Dinner Special – Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25 – Children’s portions $2.00

Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home, too. (All the better to hear you with, my dear!)
Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and take home an extra pair of earrings, too.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs. (Now THOSE are some quiet children!!)
For those of you who have children and don’t know about our childcare facilities, we have a nursery downstairs.

Don't let worry kill you -- let the church help. (I wonder if that’s how all those folks in the previous section got sick and tired?)
Don’t let worry kill you – let the church help you release stress.

The hotel has bowling alleys, tennis courts, comfortable beds, and other athletic facilities. (Nuff said!!)
The hotel has comfortable beds, as well as bowling alleys, tennis courts, and other athletic facilities.

Unattached Pronouns...or Distanced Antecedents

Here we are talking about it and they and other unattached pronouns that refer to absolutely nothing in the sentence and give entirely the wrong meaning. Better to have too many proper names or real nouns than pronouns bouncing around with no social conscience and very little sense. (Yup, real life again.)

Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool while you drink it all in. (Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!)
Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool, relax and drink in all the beauty of your surroundings.

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand. (That’s what makes us the tearminators! muahahahaaaaaa)
We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We clean it carefully by hand.

Tired of cleaning yourself? Let me do it. (Ooooh, kinkyyyyy!)
Tired of doing the cleaning all by yourself? Let me do it.

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover. (If he’s as antique as the bed, he ain’t getting far!)
Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for a lover of antiques.

Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce at night. (Wow, they don’t want much, do they?)
Wanted: unmarried girls to works nights, picking fresh fruit and produce.

In a clothing store: "Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks." (Dressing for their jobs at a sideshow?)
In a clothing store: “Wonderful bargains for men with neck sizes of 16 and 17.

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come foreward and lay an egg on the alter. (What? The Easter Bunny was busy?)
This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and place an egg on the altar. (Notice I couldn’t help correcting the two typos either – it’s a congenital condition lol)

In a Los Angeles dance hall: "Good clean dancing every night but Sunday." (That’s why the hall is packed on Sundays.)
In a Los Angeles dance hall: “Good, clean dancing six nights a week. Closed Sundays.

Dirty, Dangling Participles

Dirty, dangling participles are in much the same boat as messy modifiers, except they are whole phrases that dazzle, mislead and mystify. To simplify, a participle is almost every word that ends in “ing” that can be changed to the verb form and still make sense. For example, “dancing” can be changed to “to dance” and still makes sense in most formats – Dancing is my favorite pasttime. To dance is a favorite pasttime of mine. Certain changes are necessary to make it flow more smoothly, but rather than go into a big long technical explanation, this is as good a rule of thumb as any, and will work nearly all the time for you.

So what are DANGLING participles? Sounds dirty, doesn’t it? But really, it’s just another chance to laugh, and then clean up our communication. (I made up most of the following examples, because there weren’t that many to be found in the funnies. Seems people don’t do these as often as the mucky modifiers.)

Leaping off the cliff, I saw the mountain goat land safely 20 feet below me. (Most people see their life flash before their eyes. I see mountain goats?)
Leaping off the cliff, the mountain goat landed safely 20 feet below me.

Running with courage in their veins and determination in their hearts, the beaches around Troy were soon overrun by Achilles and his Myrmidons. (Very active beaches around Troy, eh what?)
Running with courage in their veins and determination in their hearts, Achilles and his Myrmidons soon overran the beaches around Troy.

Playing MMORPGs from dawn to dusk, the computer makes my eyes water sometimes. (My computer squirts stuff in my eyes, ya know.)
Playing MMORPGs from dawn to dusk, I sit at the computer too long, which makes my eyes water sometimes.

NEW
And here's one contributed by Dave Barzler, a reader from Birmingham, Alabama:
Being flat, Kelly changed the tire. (Poor Kelly needs one of those new bras.)
(There are endless ways to reword this one...I am tempted to leave it the way it is; however, if you are a purist and insist: The tire was flat, so Kelly changed it. Being that the tire was flat, Kelly changed it. The flat tire needed changing; Kelly did it. Well-endowed Kelly batted her eyelashes at the gas station attendant, who changed the flat tire for her. Okay, maybe the last is a bit of a departure :)

I’m sure we’ve all got the idea by now. I could go on (and on…and on…and on…don’t tempt me ) but the bottom line to all this is…when writing, make your communication clear. If it isn’t clear, then you have wasted your time, because that is what writing is…or supposed to be. If people don’t understand what you write, then you are writing a diary or a journal…because you are the only person who will ultimately understand it.

Read your writing over to yourself…not right away. Once you have let the feelings and ideas flow, let it sit for a few minutes or even a few hours. After your first flush of creativity has cooled, reread your writing. If it sounds wrong to you…or looks wrong…or feels wrong, then the chances are it IS wrong. Go over it and make it better. Don’t rely on an editor to say what YOU want to say. In the final analysis, no one can say what you have to say better than you. You just have to learn how to do it more clearly. You have the talent and the will…now learn the discipline and the tools. And you have it made!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


So sue me...
I loved that picture


 

If you have any questions on any of the foregoing,
please write me at raya@twobells.com.

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All of the foregoing text is original and copyrighted © 2004 by Raya (except for the examples in all but the last section as indicated, which are part of the public domain). All rights reserved. Copying for personal reference only is permitted.
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