Writing for Business

Nov 1 2012   1:13PM GMT

Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore


Which is correct?
a. As a quick and easy way to share content, I recommend Dropbox.
b. I recommend Dropbox as a quick and easy way to share content.

Answer: b.


What’s wrong with the first sentence? Why, it’s our old friend, the misplaced modifier. Structurally, “as a quick and easy way to share content” modifies the noun or pronoun that immediately follows it. So that means that I am a quick and easy way to share content — and I am not.

Here’s another example, from Strunk and White:

“Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.”

Although I may be in a somewhat dilapidated condition, that sentence would only be correct if the sellers took pity on me because of my sad state and gave me a steep discount. It’s more likely that “dilapidated condition” is intended to describe the house.

I like this one from the Bangor Daily News, 20 Jan 1978, too:

“After years of being lost under a pile of dust, Walter P. Stanley, III, left, found all the old records of the Bangor Lions Club.”

Good man, Walter P. Stanley, III! Most people would have given up after even a few months lost under a pile of dust.

On Copyblogger, Brian Clark shares two vivid examples from Tom Sant’s book Persuasive Business Proposals:

“After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up some oranges.”
Uhh… keep your decomposing brother away from me!

“Featuring plug-in circuit boards, we can strongly endorse this server’s flexibility and growth potential.”
Hmmm… robotic copy written by people embedded with circuit boards. Makes sense.


Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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