Welcome back to Raya’s Dungeon. Today we are visiting Chamber 3: MUTILATED, MISPLACED AND MISSING MODIFIERS…UNATTACHED PRONOUNS AND DISTANCED ANTECEDENTS…DIRTY DANGLING PARTICIPLES…AND OTHER MESSY MOUTHFULS. We’ll have four visits altogether. If you are stout of heart and not squeamish at the sight of a writer’s life’s blood, after a brief introduction, we will be visiting *gasp* Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers.
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 we 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. It’s up to you to make sure these modifiers are placed 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 red for a minute, try to 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. These hilarious offerings are more common than you think; actually, mending mutilated modifiers could become a life-long hobby. By the way, ALL the examples are advertisements or signs taken from real life…
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.
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. (Is it just me or are teachers getting younger and younger?)
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.” (They have homes for this?)
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).
. (Nothing worse than hootenannies in the graveyard — and what the heck is a letter lout??)
Notice sent to residents of a Wiltshire 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 THE GRAVE PLOTS IN ORDER.
I bet you get the idea by now. All of the above examples were misplaced modifiers.
* Lonely Hearts Club for Unattached Pronouns (aka “Distanced Antecedents) – Part 2 to follow tomorrow.
* Missing or Mutilated Modifiers – Part 3.
* Dirty Dangling Participles – Part 4.
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