Tag Archives: adjective

Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers…Unattached Pronouns and Distanced Antecedents…Dirty Dangling Participles…and Other Messy Mouthfuls.

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.

 

 
 

Man trying to communicate

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. 
(How rude!)

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).

 
 

Dancing Bones

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 THEM IN ORDER
 
 

 

. (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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The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma

WELCOME TO RAYA’S DUNGEON – CHAMBER 02

The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma

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THE TRAUMATIZED COMMA – Part I

The traumatized comma

Probably the MOST maligned punctuation mark in the history of the English language, the comma has been abused, misused, kicked, neglected, and otherwise dealt terrible damage to. And yet it is not a mob [game talk for the enemy in battle], but a veritable fount of helpfulness and aid to breath-saving. Yes, breath-saving. Without commas, we would have to talk non-stop, racing until we reach the period before we can take a breath. And yet, the comma is the hardest working punctuation mark YOU’ll ever see.

I’m not going to go into all the uses of the comma right now because there are too many of them. However, I’ll take a few so that you can start today to save the comma from all this abuse.

Series

No, I am not talking about the next exciting adventure of the Sopranos on TV nor your electrical wiring setup. I’m talking about words and using them in series. Always use commas to separate a list of things in a sentence, such as: I love to eat hot dogs, corn bread, and liver and onions.

In the above example, the comma sets off the items in the list. In modern usage, the comma before the first “and” is optional. You could have written…corn bread and liver and onions.” However, in this instance, it makes the meaning clearer to have the comma before the “and.” This example also illustrates when you do NOT put a comma before the second “and” –i.e. this second “and” (which, by the way is called a conjunction because its only purpose in life is to join words)–when the item referred to is a unit, i.e. liver and onions is a unit.

You can also have a series of phrases, and even full-fledged sentences, which, again, are separated by commas to keep the meaning clear. (Note: In some cases, you get the shy semi-colon (;) which can be used to keep the phrases or sentences separated–however, the semi-colon is not as hard-working as the comma, so we will deal with this miscreant at arm’s length–and mercilessly–in another chamber.)

 My favorite pastimes are playing MMORPGs, walking in the park, and rollerblading with my friends.

 Once you get the hang of punctuation, you can use commas like a pro, you can create masterpieces of sizzling dialogue, and you can dazzle your readers with your unique style.

 Okay, how about a series of adjectives that modify the same noun?  The rule is…if you can replace the comma with an “and,” then you put in a comma, eg: The sly and evil rogue backstabbed his way to success. This is therefore eligible for commatization (made-up word alert!), thusly: The sly, evil rogue backstabbed his way to success.

If, however, you can’t replace a supposed comma with “and,” then you leave the comma out, eg: The cloak cost 50 gold pieces at the tavern. You cannot insert “and” between “50” and “gold.” Therefore, no comma.

After thinking of ALL the uses of the comma, I decided not to go any further here, because I can already hear the bodies hitting the floor as they drop from boredom. However, the comma is probably the most important punctuation mark (perhaps excepting only the period) in the English language.

Super Comma getting ready to work her magic powers.

Therefore, for homework (no no no, I musn’t use that term)…um…for a special excursion into the wonderful world of the superhero COMMA (not to be confused with COMA), please run through the above list of very helpful hints on when to use the comma. Don’t let the names of the word parts bother you any more than you let the names of the different ways to slay your enemies in your favorite MMO bother you. I’m sure you recognize the result, if not the names they are called…remember them. They just may save your dying prose some day.  

If you have any questions about commas, please don’t suffer in silence…put them in a comment below or email me at raya at fantasyfic dot com.