It’s quiz time. Below are sentences with misplaced modifiers and / or dangling participles. Take a stab at answering the questions.
I. Surprised that his remark about her inability to brew a proper pot of tea would stir such angst, the bullets whizzed past Horace’s ear as he hid behind Mrs. Ainsworth’s refrigerator.
1. According to this sentence, who (or what) was surprised?
2. Should Horace have been more prudent with his criticism?
3. What do you suppose happened to Horace after he mentioned that Mrs. Ainsworth had overcooked the cranberry scones?
II. Aghast that her guest would make such a blunder, the goldfish aquarium water — with the goldfish — was consumed before Mrs. Rutherford’s very eyes.
1. According to this sentence, who (or what) was aghast?
2. How do you think the goldfish felt about this whole ordeal?
3. One can only assume that the consumer was either pitcher Randy Johnson or slugger Dave Winfield, given their histories of animal destruction (look it up). Who was it, and why?
4. The word very is used as an adjective here. Can you think of two other examples using that word in this way?
III. Towering into the clouds, Aunt Ruth stared at the formidable mountain and decided to put on an extra pair of socks.
1. According to this sentence, who (or what) was towering?
2. If you answered “Aunt Ruth” to the first question, give an estimate of what Aunt Ruth’s mass would be, and attempt to explain why she of large mass wouldn’t throw the earth’s orbit out of whack.
3. What color socks would Aunt Ruth wear for this example?
IV. Stunned by the surprising blast of the cannon, the heavy artillery used in Robert’s graduation ceremony caused Mr. Entlewaithe’s dentures to fall out and land in Mrs. Jackson’s handbag.
1. According to this sentence, who (or what) was stunned?
2. Describe how Pachelbel’s canon might have had a different result.
3. What did Mrs. Jackson do when she returned home and found Mr. Entlewaithe’s dentures?
4. Should Mrs. Jackson have added the dentures to her collection of body parts that she kept in jars on the shelf in the den (including three wisdom teeth, a set of tonsils, and an appendix)?
MC: Good evening, folks, and welcome to the annual rendition — what is quickly becoming the Wizard of Oz in the literary grammar world (well, okay, if not the Wizard of Oz, maybe this is the annual equivalent of Gus’s Hot Dogs’ Groundhog Day Celebration) — of the Art of the Christmas Letter, or to put it more succinctly, Can You Top My List of Ailments? We have with us that icon of grammatical icons, Aunt Ruth. Twinkling in the dark skies above, Aunt Ruth is even more sparkling tonight than those heavenly stars. We welcome you, Aunt Ruth.
AR: Thanks, MC. You’re dangling your participles again. How embarrassing this is.
MC: (suddenly mortified) I’m … what?
AR: I am not twinkling in the dark skies above. The stars are twinkling.
MC: Ah, I see the confusion. Would it have been better if I had mentioned something about chihuahuas?
AR: No, please. The chihuahua thing is getting old. Now, your gaffe is common in Christmas letters. Dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, and the like are becoming all too commonplace.
MC: Why do you suppose that is?
AR: Well, it may have something to do with people getting out of practice writing. I mean, really, how many letters — physical, stamped, pieces of correspondence that arrive in a mailbox or through your door slot to a real live mailing address — do you receive any more, other than bills and advertisements?
AR: Exactly. Now, it is not my intent to discourage Christmas letter writers from penning notes to family and friends. The world needs more of this sort of thing. The last thing I want is for someone to text me, “HAVE A GR8 XMAS.” There are a couple things you need to keep in mind, though, when writing those letters.
MC: And they are …
AR: I’m glad you asked. First, watch those misplaced modifiers. Here are examples of things to avoid.
Covered with red, blue, and silver ornaments, and adorned in hundreds of lights blinking in rhythm to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Oscar set up the Christmas tree last weekend.
Plumper than last year, Edna promises this year’s Christmas goose will be something to behold.
Coming out shortly after our baby was born, Ronald exclaimed, “It’s the placenta!”
With a little better resolution and less blurriness than last year, Michael is fired up about this year’s edition of Madden football.
Deluging the kids and pelting them with frozen stuff, Harris watched from the window as the kids braved the season’s first ice storm.
Barking all night long, James is hoping that the dogs will learn to quiet down over time.
Sagging from age and significant excess weight, Aunt Ruth was concerned about all the snow on her porch roof.
Make sure that the thing you are describing matches the description. I am not sagging from age and significant excess weight … well maybe I am, but I’m not concerned about it. My porch roof is sagging from age and significant excess weight.
MC: Okay, point well taken. What’s the other thing?
AR: Avoid getting too graphic. It’s one thing to say in a Christmas letter, “We had a baby,” and it’s something else to describe the placenta in great detail.
MC: Do people actually do that?
AR: They do. Please, unless you have a child named Placenta, spare us the details.
MC: I think we should close on that note.
AR: Are you really going to publish this? It’s a bit weak, don’t you think?
MC: Agreed, but I am anyway. Okay, stay tuned until next week, folks, when we air the annual edition of My Bowl Game Is Bigger than Your Bowl Game.