GrammarGal
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3.10.2002  

A misplaced what?!?!
(Topic idea courtesy of the Alley Writer)

Imagine me in math class. I heard terms like, "derivative" and "exponential." When those terms flew out of a prof's mouth, my brain shut down.

The same thing happened in my editing class, too. I heard terms like, "gerunds," "adverbial phrase," and "linking verbs," and it was all downhill from there. Somehow through osmosis they stuck in my head, and months after finishing that class I studied grammar out of curiousity and not a need for an A.

Why do I bring this up? Because today I'm going to use a term that may scare you away. Please don't let it, for the purpose of this lesson isn't to force rote memorization of terms or explain complex grammar rules. But I've gotta use the term simply because that's what we'll be learning. The term is (gasp! are you ready?!?) misplaced modifier.

The term can simply be described as a sentence that is confusing because a word is not placed by the word it is describing. Take this sentence for an example:

Blowing down the highway, she grabbed her wig.

So, who or what is doing the blowing? She or the wig? A better way to write that sentence would be, "She grabbed her wig, which was blowing down the highway." We know for sure then it's the wig that is blowing.

Here's another example of a misplaced modifier:

She expelled the geese with her gas, fearing her date would be mortified.

OK, whose gas expelled what? Confused yet? Yeah, you probably know what the sentence is really supposed to mean, but these are examples of weak writing. Let's try the goose sentence this way: "She feared her date would be mortified after she expelled the geese with her gas." Now we know exactly who scared the heck out of what with the mortifying gas, right?

AlleyWriter suggested this example of a misplaced modifier:

Frankly, these pants make you look fat.

Are the pants making you look fat in a frank manner? I didn't know pants could be frank! Maybe they can be Joe, too ;)





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Mareesa Orth is GrammarGal. Her journalism degree from the University of Missouri is in editing and design. Mareesa works for an independent book publisher and has edited numerous books, covers, webpages, brochures, and other knicknacks. While graphic design is her first love (though you wouldn't know it from this simple blogger page. ;), her anal-retentive side seeks ways to educate the world on English language usage.


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In addition to the tips offered here, Mareesa is a personal editing and writing consultant. If you need a business memo polished, a research paper edited (no, she will not write your paper for you), or simply want some one-on-one lessons in grammar, email for a quote. Rates are extremely reasonable and competitive.
Comments by: YACCS