Misplaced modifiers confuse the reader.
Misplaced or dangling modifiers mess up word order!
Word order varies from one language to another. I have been told that, in German, this order is logical. In English, it paints the wrong picture, at least, until the end is reached.
Throw Mama from the train her shoe.
Misplaced modifiers affecting word order come in several varieties:
- dangling participles
- misplaced adjectives
- misplaced adverbs
- misplaced phrases
Hiking in the mountains, an apple satisfied her hunger.
It is not likely that the apple was hiking in the mountains. The subject related to the introductory phrase should not be “apple,” because it can’t hike.
The phrase itself does not have a subject, so it depends on the independent clause to identify the actor. If the subject of the main clause is something else, the whole sentence is confusing.
The solution is usually to rearrange the independent clause to identify the appropriate subject for both.
- The apple satisfied her hunger while Tammie hiked in the mountains.
- Hiking in the mountains, Tammy ate an apple, satisfying her hunger.
Yes, sometimes you have to rework the sentence to have the right word order, but you do want your reader to understand what you intend.
The original sentences are struck through to indicate a bad way to write a sentence.
Smothered in gravy, Henry ate his chicken-fried steak.
The subject related to the participial phrase should not be “Henry,” because people should not be smothered in gravy.
Better word order:
- Henry ate his chicken-fried steak, which was smothered in gravy.
- Henry ate his gravy-smothered chicken-fried steak.
Pinned to the bulletin board, I looked at the Thank-You cards.
The subject related to the participial phrase should not be “I,” because I don’t want to be pinned to a bulletin board.
Better word order:
- I looked at the Thank-You cards pinned to the bulletin board.
- The Thank-You cards pinned to the bulletin board came from all over the country.
First drafts should be reread carefully to avoid strange descriptions.
- The most recent addition to the Lost-and-Found pile was
a polkadot man’s tie.
- (A polkadot man???)
- (Better) a man’s polkadot tie
A green child’s coatwas left on the playground.
- (A green child???)
- (Better) a child’s green coat
- Someone turned in
a pink dog’s collar.
- (A pink dog???)
- (Better) a dog’s pink collar
- Drink that coffee while you wait slowly.
- (Waiting does take time, but we don’t usually wait quickly or slowly.)
- (Better) Drink that coffee slowly while you wait.
- Do your exercises while your body works faithfully.
- (How does your body work faithfully?)
- (Better) Do your exercises faithfully while your body still works.
- Don’t laugh while you eat loudly.
- (Yes, it’s possible to eat loudly, but more likely the instruction refers to laughing.)
- (Better) Don’t laugh loudly while you eat.
- Just Joseph could read that book.
- (Nobody else could read it.)
- Joseph could just read that book.
- (He barely knew the words.)
- Joseph could read just that book.
- (He could read that book, but not any others.)
- Only the tornado damaged the tree.
- (Nothing else–not the earthquake, not the fire– just the tornado damaged the tree.)
- The only tornado damaged the tree.
- (The damage was caused by just one tornado.)
- The tornado only damaged the tree.
- (The tornado tore off some branches, but it did not destroy the tree.)
- The tornado damaged only the tree.
- (The tree, but nothing else, was damaged by the tornado.)
- The tornado damaged the only tree.
- (There was just one tree in the entire area.)
As they say in real estate, “Location, location, location.”
- The boy chased the bird with a butterfly net.
- (Probably the bird does not have a butterfly net.)
- (Better) The boy with a butterfly net chased the bird.
- (Better) Wielding a butterfly net, the boy chased the bird.
- The old lady was eating the pie she baked on the back porch.
- (Unless she has an oven on her back porch, …)
- (Better) Sitting on the back porch, the old lady was eating the pie she baked.
Credit: Photo by JK on Unsplash