How Safe Is Your Syntax From A Dangling Modifier?
Having determined that dangling modifiers make the writer look like a chump, Layman’s Terms will avoid them from now on.
Wait, wait… Layman’s Terms didn’t determine anything. I did! For myself, at least. You probably knew it already. But it’s another rule of usage that was never on any test I took.
The worst ones sure do look bad. Bill Bryson uses “Handing me my whisky, his face broke into an awkward smile” as the poster pimple illustrating this syntactical blemish. It’s a funny one–the face hands the whisky.
But it’s not often that a truly egregious dangling modifier like it finds its way into print. I think our brains come standard with a low threshold for such jumbling.
Avoiding the passive voice is one way of staying out of trouble. Purdue University’s helpful online grammar site gives several examples of dangling modifiers, almost all of which flop because of passive voice in the main clause.
Here’s my modest proposal: Just don’t begin any sentences with modifying clauses. You’ll never get a dangler. And even when the modifier is clear about what it modifies, it usually sounds bad.
How many terrible bio blurbs begin with something like “A passionate world traveler, gourmande and djembe beater, Petunia Zickafoose is a polymath without equal…”? No laws are broken here, but it sets my AMATEUR! alarm blaring.
Put the main thing first, then tell more about it.
October 13, 2012