Friday, August 30, 2013

Speaking of dangling

Being just too easy, I commit the crime of dangling modifiers more often than I like.

Needing help, Ben Yagoda, the most helpful professor of English and journalism at the University of Delaware, comes to my rescue:
In a class, I once assigned students to review a consumer product. One student chose a bra sold by Victoria's Secret. She wrote: 
Sitting in a class or dancing at the bar, the bra performed well…. Though slightly pricey, your breasts will thank you.
Now I'm just guessing, but I think Yagoda chose this example in an effort to appeal to the men slouching on the back row.
The two sentences are both guilty of dangling modifiers because (excuse me if I'm stating the obvious), the bra did not sit in a class or dance at the bar, and "your breasts" are not slightly pricey. 
Danglers are inexplicably attractive, and even good writers commit this error a lot... in their first drafts.
Told you.
Here's a strategy for smoking these bad boys out in revision. First, recognize sentences that have this structure: 
Then change the order to: 
If the result makes sense, you're good to go. If not, you have a dangler. So in the first sentence above, the rejiggered sentence would be: 
The bra, sitting in a class or dancing at a bar, performed well. 
Nuh-uh. The solution here, as it often is, is just to add a couple of words: 
Whether you're sitting in a class or dancing at the bar, the bra performs well.
Being a good way to remember this rule, I will now end this post.

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