Tag Archives: English language rules

Do You Misplace Your Modifiers?

Misplaced modifiers happen when a word or group of words ends up modifying (giving information about) another word in the sentence. Often, the results are very funny.

I found this in one of my favorite magazines, The Week, which is a digest of articles from around the world. In an article on street food, with an accompanying recipe for Dan Dan Noodles (too complicated for me), Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau, chefs at a Philadelphia restaurant, V Street, declare, “We want the stuff that a little old lady is frying up in her flip-flops….”

Where to begin? First of all, how does the little old lady stand the heat? How does the food stay on her flip-flops? And do we really want to eat food cooked on a shoe and redolent of the odor of the foot that recently occupied that flip-flop?

Hungry?

You need to know that a modifier needs to be placed next to the word about which it gives information. Here’s an example:

“I met Harry only once before.” How many times did you meet Harry? “Only” once.

But here’s the problem: most people would write (and say), “I only met Harry once.” However, you didn’t “only” meet. You did meet. “Only” tells you how many times you met him: Once.

“Only” is the most commonly misplaced modifier. Others to watch out for are “hardly,” “even,” “scarcely,” “nearly,” “almost” and “just.”

Fix the modifiers in the following sentences:

1. “I almost ate the whole pizza.”
2. “The sweater was what Anna had been looking for in the store window exactly.”
3. “Paul’s boss nearly decided to pay him $700 a week.”

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My Favorite Book on English

Patricia O’Conner has done it again: she has updated and revised her classic book on writing and English usage, Woe Is I. I can hardly tell you how much I love this book. Before you stop reading, let me tell you that you will laugh out loud on just about every page. OK, read on. O’Conner realizes how all languages change over time, which is why she revised this classic book to fit with current and accepted usage. This is the fourth edition and, as English changes, there will be a fifth and a sixth and a twentieth.

O’Conner writes in everyday English. Here are a few chapter titles:

PLURALS BEFORE SWINE  Blunders with Numbers

YOURS TRULY  The Possessive and the Possessed

COMMA SUTRA  The Joy of Punctuation

DEATH SENTENCE   Do Clichés Deserve to Die?

THE LIVING DEAD    Let Bygone Rules Be Gone

Here’s an explanation about subject-verb agreement: “A substance was stuck to Sam’s shoe.”  Or  “A green, slimy, and foul-smelling substance was stuck to Sam’s shoe.” O’Conner adds, “The subject is substance and it stays singular no matter how many disgusting adjectives you pile on.”

See? Not your typical book about English and writing. This one is Wonderful. Entertaining. Fun. Comprehensible. Helpful. Essential.

O’Conner also has a blog to which she posts almost every day, giving explanations about questions people (including me) have submitted. If you subscribe, you’ll get it in your inbox. It’s definitely not spam: www.grammarphobia.com

 

 

 

 

 

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When to Capitalize Titles

 

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If the title comes immediately before or after a person’s name, capitalize it:

former President Barack Obama

Chairman Mao

Mayor Eric Garcetti

Eric Garrett, Mayor of Los Angeles   but   the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garrett

Pope Francis    but    The current pope is Francis

 

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More on Capitalization

 

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Whatever you do, DO NOT study Trump’s tweets for a lesson in capitalization. He seems to have zero idea of when to use capital letters and just does so at will, most often for emphasis. Of course, when you emphasize everything, you end up emphasizing nothing.

Here’s the deal: If you are writing the official name of something, capitalize it:

I went to Hollywood High School.   But I went to high school in Hollywood. My high school was in Hollywood.

She was born in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But She was born in a hospital in Philadelphia. The hospital she was born in was in Philadelphia.

If the word you are using is not the official name of the thing you are citing, use lower case. In addition, the word the is rarely part of anything’s official name. It’s not The Statue of Liberty. Use lower case for the word the.

 

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language