Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Have You Misplaced Your Modifiers? Do Your Participles Dangle? #ASMSG

Have you misplaced your modifiers?
Do your participles dangle?

Do you feel your editors and readers are laughing at you behind your back? Are your scenes of dramatic climax causing your critique partners to dissolve in gales of hilarity? Well, come see Dr. Editor and let’s look at your dangling participles and misplaced modifiers.

“I didn’t know my modifiers had wandered,” you said. “What IS a dangling participle?” you ask.
There have been reams written in English grammar texts about participial phrases – present participial phrases, past participial phrases – please read them. But if it sounds like so much gibberish, step into my office and hop up on the table. My job as Dr. Editor is to guide you to a healthy manuscript in language EVERYONE can understand. 

Do you need to know what aspirin is to have it cure your hangover?


I’m going to remove the mystique. So here, down and dirty, is all you need to know about participial phrases:
·         It is a group of words (a phrase) that are meant to modify a noun (person, place or thing) that is the subject or object of your sentence. The phrase will commonly begin with a verb (action word) with an “ing” ending or an “ed” ending. 
 BUT! BEWARE! A participial phrase clings like white cat hair on a black suit to the closest noun.

And this, my dear patient, is the crux of the problem. This is what results in those hilarious dangling bits. Here are a few choice examples. I have underlined the participial phrase for you.

·         The burglar was about 30 years old, white, 5' 10", with wavy hair weighing about 150 pounds.
. . . now, I’m thinking this fellow has some serious hair . . .

Okay. What did the writer mean to say? (In this case from a police report that was unintentionally funny.) He meant the burglar weighed about 150 pounds. BUT that pesky present participial phrase clung to the closest noun – hair.

This is how the sentence should have been written:

Weighing about 150 pounds, the burglar was about 30 years old, white, 5’10", with wavy hair.

·         Hunting can also be dangerous, as in the case of pygmies hunting elephants armed only with spears.  . . . um, yeah. I’d say if the elephants are armed with spears they are definitely dangerous.

Again, what did the reporter mean to say? He meant the pygmies were armed only with spears when hunting elephants. BUT that pesky past participial phrase clung to the closest noun – elephants.

You can go wrong with more than participial phrases. Here are a few examples of misplaced modifiers.  Find them and then find the closest noun and you will have identified your problem.

·         We spent most of our time sitting on the back porch watching the cows playing Scrabble and reading. Methinks those are well-educated cows!

What the sentence should have said was:
We spent most of our time sitting on the back porch playing Scrabble, reading and watching the cows.

In order to “fix” it, all you need do is move the wandering modifier closer to the noun it modified, “time”. Stripped to its basics this is the sentence:  We spent time sitting.

Here are the modifiers:
Where did we spend time? Prepositional phrase: “on the back porch”
How much did we spend? Qualifier: “most of our”
In what way we spend time sitting? Gerund: reading and participial phrases: playing Scrabble and watching cows.

This example was a little tricky because you have a gerund operating as a noun, “sitting”. (Don’t worry about what a gerund is, just think “action” words ending with “ing” that take on other roles). Just remember, identify what you are describing – almost always a person, place or thing – and don’t let your modifiers wander too far or you will have unintended hilarity.

One last example:
·         Organ donations from the living reached a record high last year, outnumbering donors who are dead for the first time. Do they have donors who are dead for the second time?

Here we have an example of a misplaced prepositional phrase: “for the first time”. What the writer meant to say was:

Last year, for the first time, organ donations from the living reached a record high and outnumbered those from donors who are dead.

 And yes, you will accuse me of rewriting, but I want my verbs to “parallel”. Here is your sentence stripped of all modifiers:

Donations reached and outnumbered. Full stop. Everything else is modification.

So, there you have it, my lovely patients. Tuck those dangling bits back where they belong. Round up those wandering modifiers and put them as close to what they modify as an alcoholic is to his bottle and go forth to create healthy manuscripts!

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“Dr. Editor” is also known as Patricia A. Knight, erotic romance author of the Verdantia Series:
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Release Date June 4, 2013

Patricia A. Knight is the pen name for an eternal romantic who lives in Dallas, Texas surrounded by her horses, dogs and the best man on the face of the earth – oh yeah, and the most enormous bullfrogs you will ever see. Word to the wise: don’t swim in the pool after dark.

I love to hear from my readers and can be reached at or Or send me an email at Check out my latest “Hunk of the Day,” book releases, contests and other fun stuff on my face book page:

If you enjoyed Hers To Command, look for Sophi DeLorion’s story, Hers To Choose, coming out in mid-July 2013 and Steffania Rickard’s tale, Hers To Cherish coming in early August, 2013.


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