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Mutilating Modifiers and Damaging Dirty Dangling Participles
MUTILATED, MISPLACED AND
By popular request, Rayas 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, lets take a look at what writing is supposed to do. Anyone? Anyone know what writing is supposed to do? hmmmmm yes, entertain, thats 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 dont communicate, we dont really, we dont 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 lets 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 wont 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, lets 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 dont fall out of their chairs laughing, especially when you didn't MEAN to be funny.
Here are some examples of what were talking about. Study each sentence in yellow for a minute, try and figure out WHY its 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 youre getting out of mending mutilated modifiers. (And by the way, ALL the examples are advertisements or signs taken from real life so dont feel bad. Youre not the only one who does it ).
A superb and inexpensive
restaurant. Fine food expertly served by waitresses in appetizing
forms. (So dont drool on
For sale: an antique desk
suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.
(What a picture!)
Wanted. Man to take care
of cow that does not smoke or drink.
(Good lord, what are the
other cows like?)
Have several very old dresses
from grandmother in beautiful condition.
(Way to go, granny!)
Mixing bowl set designed
to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating.
(Nothing like beating those round-bottomed cooks!)
3-year-old teacher need
for pre-school. Experience preferred.
(Talk about Doogie Howser! Okay, okay, forget the reference,
you get the drift.)
Remember in prayer the many
who are sick of our church and community.
(Dont go away mad, k?)
On a New York convalescent
home: "For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church."
(I remember them. They didnt go very far, did they?)
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??)
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 dont think I want to eat here anymore.)
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!)
For those of you who have
children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
(Now THOSE are some quiet children!!)
Don't let worry kill you
-- let the church help. (I wonder
if thats how all those folks in the previous section
got sick and tired?)
The hotel has bowling alleys,
tennis courts, comfortable beds, 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!)
We do not tear your clothing
with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.
(Thats what makes us the tearminators! muahahahaaaaaa)
Tired of cleaning yourself?
Let me do it. (Ooooh,
Four-poster bed, 101 years
old. Perfect for antique lover. (If
hes as antique as the bed, he aint getting far!)
Wanted: Unmarried girls
to pick fresh fruit and produce at night.
(Wow, they dont want much, do they?)
In a clothing store: "Wonderful
bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks."
(Dressing for their jobs at a sideshow?)
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?)
In a Los Angeles dance hall:
"Good clean dancing every night but Sunday."
(Thats why the hall is packed on 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, doesnt it? But really, its just another chance to laugh, and then clean up our communication. (I made up most of the following examples, because there werent that many to be found in the funnies. Seems people dont 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?)
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?)
Playing MMORPGs from dawn
to dusk, the computer makes my eyes water sometimes.
(My computer squirts stuff in my eyes, ya know.)
Im sure weve all got the idea by now. I could go on (and on and on and on dont tempt me ) but the bottom line to all this is when writing, make your communication clear. If it isnt clear, then you have wasted your time, because that is what writing is or supposed to be. If people dont 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. Dont 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!!