When we write, we know what we mean but don't always express it. Take for instance, dangling phrases and clauses. If you reread your manuscript after a few days, you may discover them or you may still overlook them. A critique group usually finds them. Then you feel really silly for having made such an obvious mistake.
What is a dangling phrase or clause? Phrases (a sequence of two or more words acting as a unit in a sentence) and clauses (which have a subject and verb and could be a sentence on its own) appear in different places within a sentence and refer to a noun or pronoun. If placed incorrectly, they refer to the wrong noun, pronoun, or to nothing. Let's look at some examples Kathleen Phillips used in her book How to Wrtie a Story.
1. "We saw the flowers walking in the garden." Who is walking, the flowers or we? To correct the sentence we can begin with a phrase. "While walking in the garden, we saw the flowers." Now who saw the flowers and who is walking?
2. Sometimes we leave out a subject or verb and forget what we are talking about. "When still a puppy, I taught Fido to shake hands." Who or what was the puppy? If we change the phrase to a clause with a subject and verb, we understand. "When he was still a puppy, I taught Fido to shake hands." Or we can take "I" out. "When still a puppy, Fido learned to shake hands."
3. Danglers may appear anywhere in a sentence. "A dog almost bit me when I was riding my bicycle." If we change the order of the sentence, it becomes clearer. "When I was riding my bicycle, a dog almost bit me."
4. Orphaned pronouns cause misunderstanding in a sentence. "The dog bit my tire and then it sprang a leak."
Although the pronoun "it" is closer to tire, it still seems to refer to the dog because of the word "then."
Rearranging the sentence solves the problem. "My tire sprang a leak when the dog bit it."
5. If a modifier rests too far from the word it modifies, the meaning can be confusing, amusing and/or distracting. "Later I saw the dog with a girl on a long leash." What did the author mean for the phrase to modify? If we place the phrase closer to dog, we correct the meaning. "Later, I saw a girl with the dog on a long leash."
Dangling phrases and clauses provide humor and relaxes any tension within a critique group. However, I'm not saying to add them to your writing for humor sake. What if they aren't caught?
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