or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Do they still teach things like the misplaced modifier, aka the dangling participle, in school? Do they, in fact, still teach grammar in school?

I ask in all seriousness, because the sorts of mistakes you see in published writing suggest that people aren't being taught such things, and go on to spread their ignorance and abysmal style to yet another generation of readers.

Here is the lead--the lead!--to a typical women's-section newspaper article in the local rag:

Bursting with vitamins, fiber and flavour, an increasing number of nutrition aware consumers are incorporating sweet potatoes into their daily diet.

I was honestly shocked when I read that ridiculous sentence. How is it even possible that that thing fell off the writer's fingertips onto the keyboard, that it was (presumably) reviewed and revised by the writer, that it was (theoretically) given the once-over by a copy editor, that it made it into print without one single person noticing that the way the sentence was written, the adjective "bursting with vitamins, fiber and flavour" refers not to the sweet potatoes but to the people who buy and cook them?*

One of the most basic rules of English grammatical style is that there has to be a clear connection between related words--that adjectives have to obviously belong to the nouns which they modify, that verbs have to impart motion or agency to the appropriate noun and not some other. You can write huge meandering compound-complex sentences, but you have to ensure that all the parts of those sentences relate sensibly to one another. Rearranging your sentence structure in a desperate attempt to give it some sort of style, and in the process making a hash of its meaning, just makes you look like another undereducated person who doesn't know how to write.

* Correctly yoking the adjective to the noun, unfortunately, would require reversing the order of the noun phrases, putting the sentence in passive voice, which is not much of an improvement. Any teacher or editor would tell the writer to go back and reconsider the whole lead.


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