Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Grammar Moment: Misplaced Modifiers

Yeah, you know exactly what you mean. …

The issue of misplaced modifiers actually deals with what is probably the biggest problem with writing well. You know exactly what you mean. And because you know exactly what you mean, when you proofread your work, you’re sure it conveys the meaning you intend.

Oops, it doesn’t work that way in real life. All of those connections between ideas that your brain made when you were writing … those connections aren’t there any more. The only connections that count for readers are those that are made in the writing itself, not the ones that were in the writer’s brain at the time the writer did the writing but didn’t actually get into the writing itself.

Narrowing down to a more specific topic: sometimes you have a word or phrase that describes something. You may know exactly what the word or phrase describes, and so you forget to tell the reader. Let’s look at the following sentence:

Being a dinghy sailor, the world of yachting can at times be quite daunting.

I have corrected one spelling error from the original sentence, but otherwise, it is exactly as it appears on another blog.

Let’s start with the basic rule: When you have a descriptive word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence, that word or phrase usually describes the subject of the main sentence. Thus, “Being a dinghy sailor” describes “the world of yachting.” Yep, that’s right, according to this blog, the world of yachting is being a dinghy sailor.

There are two ways to fix this sort of misplaced modifier.

First, you can rewrite the sentence to make clear who or what is referred to in the introductory phrase:

Since I am a dinghy sailor, the world of yachting can at times be quite daunting.

Now we know that the dinghy sailor is the writer, not the world of yachting.

Second, you can rewrite the sentence following the introductory phrase to make the thing modified also be the subject of the sentence:

Being a dinghy sailor, I find that the world of yachting can at times be quite daunting.

This is my preferred solution in this case. The writer establishes, clearly and concisely, that she is a dinghy sailor, and she makes clear that the evaluation she makes is based on her own experience.

Note, also, that this solution didn’t require using a lot more words. You don’t need a whole lot of words to say what you mean, just precise, effective, and efficient words.


Anonymous AdriftAtSea said...

They could have also written: The world of yatching can at times be quite daunting to me, a dinghy sailor.

Sat Aug 19, 03:15:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous pL said...

To me, it sounds like you are all a bit dinghy...

Mon Aug 21, 07:06:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the world of yachting, my dinghy is quite daunting.

Mon Aug 21, 10:30:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Or you could try a more ornate style: The world of yachting, with its gleaming megabucks floating palaces, acres of professionally maintained brightwork, and manicured yacht club lawns behind locked gates, intimates me and other dinghy sailors.

Wed Sep 13, 08:43:00 AM MDT  

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