Lord, aren’t I lucky, I came across another lovely dangling modifier at work today, with the added bonus of a misplaced comma:
“They came in through the basement and the lady that occupies the space downstairs, said they can wiggle the window and come in very easily.”
I felt for the poor woman, having burglars come through her: that experience must have been physically trying and reminiscent of reverse childbirth. The comma is incorrectly placed, as you should never separate the subject from its verb unless it is a qualifying phrase that follows the subject. A more specific version of this sentence should read:
“The burglars came in through the basement window. The lady, who occupies the space downstairs, said that the window can be wiggled open easily.”
Firstly, I thought it better to cut the sentence into two for clarity. The first is the event in question; the second sentence qualifies the first. Next, I specified who the ‘they’ were, as it is always better to specify the subject rather than having an orphaned pronoun. As the impetus of the initial sentence was to include a comma, I created am appositive phrase to modify the subject, the “lady.” The commas are not necessary but I am a fan of commas to help provide a nicer rhythm to a sentence, and to help break out concepts. I next added “that” to turn the object of the second sentence into a stronger clause. Lastly, I condensed the two ideas, of the window being wiggled and of the burglars coming in easily, together, for increased clarity.
Voila! The recipe for a better sentence.
I was recently helping a colleague clean out his 21GB inbox (People, do you really need all the daily work minutiae? I think I have to write a segment on inbox management at some point), and came across this beautifully ambiguous line that virtually leapt out at me during the email exorcism:
“The staff spend close to 100% of their day in front of the monitors and they are nearly 8 years old so are on the brink of failure.”
I had not realized that we hired eight year-olds, and damned if those eight year-olds weren’t about to kick the bucket and/or screw up colossally. I also hadn’t made the leap of faith that equated being eight with being a failure. I thought that one had to wait till the age of fifty to start contemplating whether one’s life was a failure.
I do believe this little sentence drives the point home that it is important to qualify all dangling modifiers:
“The staff spend close to 100% of their day in front of the monitors. Those monitors are nearly 8 years-old and are likely* on the brink of failure.”
* In the defense of monitors, I should add that one cannot presuppose that an eight year-old monitor is about to stop working…there is a good chance that the monitor is going to crash soon, but this scenario is a likelihood, not a certainty.
In anticipation of things to come
I spent the day on Waikiki beach,
The far side where I’d been
With Steve and Billy and the gang,
Back in January.
I buried my identity in the sand,
And massaged Maui into my skin.
I rotisseried myself,
With occasional bastings of sea water,
When I went to look at tropical fish
Through thick lenses and mouthfuls of waves.
After a thorough well done roast,
I am injecting happy hour into my veins, Sitting in the shade of a beach side bar,
Watching sea turtles and surfers,
Waiting for you to arrive.