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Q: What is a dangling modifier?

A: A dangling modifier is a grammatical error in which the structure of the sentence associates the modifier with a word other than the word the writer intended.

   Groucho Marx uttered one of the best and funniest in one of the Marx Brothers films when he said, "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know."

   Obviously, Groucho was wearing the pajamas, but you can't really tell that from the construction of the sentence. Grammatically, it is possible that the elephant wore them. The writer intends to modify the subject, but inadvertently modifies the object. It's a sure way to kill your message, primarily because the readers will probably be convulsed with laughter. For example:

  • Being in dilapidated condition, I was able to purchase the property within budget."
  • After being buried in our filing room for years, I discovered the minutes of that all-important meeting."
  • We express our thanks to the Posts Office for the kind service they provide and for the patience they have with little old ladies in mailing packages.
  • Do not sit in the chair without being fully assembled.
  • In 2001 he bought the majority of company stock along with his mother.
  • Two company automobiles were reported stolen by Corporate Security this week.
  • The tractor trailer hit a telephone pole traveling at 50 miles per hour.
  • Our founder died in the home in which she was born at the age of 87.
  • No one was injured in the blast, which was attributed to a buildup of gas by one town official.

      As always, forgo the urge to dash off your words of wisdom and take a moment to review those words. Often, you'll find your missive contains the proverbial elephant in the room - a dangling modifier.

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I welcome your comments and especially your questions about writing fiction and/or the characters and scenes in my novels.

 The most interesting questions will be answered here.

GREAT SUPPORT DEPT. If you're in need of help regarding formatting for e-publishing and paperback versions of those books I highly recommend you check out Deborah Lewis' website. She has just completed several projects for me in getting a book on Amazon and on CreateSpace and she has always gone the proverbial extra mile in helping me with professional services and sound advice. Log on to http://www.arenapublishing.org/ She'll be handling similar duties on my next novel because her fees are reasonable, she knows what she's doing, and I know it'll be done right - and I can focus my time on writing the next book in the line up.

Here is an example of what a formatted book cover looks like. Cover art is by Annette Yeates Tolliver and the formatting is by Deborah Lewis.

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