Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The normalization of the dangling participle

In my ardent, never-ending quest to become a better writer, I was reading an article today about grammatical errors to avoid. The title of the article was "Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb," which, now that I think about it, was a strange article for me to be reading. After all, I don't think I was actually afraid that I commit these errors; maybe I was looking for another error to catch people on. I hope that's not the case, because that's sick.

The author made an interesting assertion about dangling modifiers. He cited two examples:

After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up some oranges.

...

Featuring plug-in circuit boards, we can strongly endorse this server’s flexibility and growth potential

And then he wrote,

The problem with both of the above is that the participial phrase that begins the sentence is not intended to modify what follows next in the sentence. However, readers mentally expect it to work that way, so your opening phrase should always modify what immediately follows. If it doesn’t, you’ve left the participle dangling, as well as your readers. (emphasis mine)

Here's the thing: I'm not so sure that's true. I see these dangling modifiers all over the place. Granted, they are not prevalent in official, published material, so at least part of the English-speaking population is expecting the second part of the sentence to follow the first. But I think there are a lot of people who don't see there's a connection between the two, as if the first part of the sentence is just giving a certain amount of background information and the second part is providing an entirely different piece of information; as if what comes after the comma is not referenced by what goes before it.

Just another example of the widening and erosion of the English language . . . what a great language it is, but how ambiguous it's getting these days!

2 comments:

brannabee said...

how i feel about it is amibuous, too. i mean, i like the freedom of expression outside of the boundaries of rules of english language... but i do agree that these rules are most effectively broken when the breaker has understood them before they have broken them. to me, often a parallel with modern art.

that's all.

brannabee said...

and by ambibuous, i most definitely meant ambiguous. heh.