Writing Tips

Sentence Structure

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Prepositional Versus Participial Phrases

Looking for a good laugh, most of us would opt for a comedy club rather than open a book on grammar. But grammar texts can be side-splitting. I admit to slapping my own knee over a ripping good debate on participial prepositions, and the subjunctive mood has often put me in hysterics. But if you made me vote for Funniest Grammatical Error, I would have to say the Misplaced Modifier. That’s why I encourage more professionals to stick in modifying phrases anywhere they please. We all need a good laugh:

The Sportswriter:

Matsui then lined the ball off Martinez’s leg, which rolled into right field.

The Courtroom Reporter:

After soliciting sexual favors from a juror, the judge sanctioned the plaintiff’s lawyer.

You can see how easily this happens when we’re not paying attention:

The Manager:

Taken out of context, you could misinterpret my point.

The Insurance Agent:

As a large insurance company, we agents depend on Allstate to help us secure the financial well-being of our clients.

For those of you who insist on paying attention, and absolutely refuse to give the rest of us a good laugh, we can categorize these modifying phrases for a closer look:

prepositional phrases:

Mando Jacobs was found stabbed more than 20 times by the woman who owned the house.

Stabbed more than 20 times, Mando Jacobs was found by the woman who owned the house.

or:

The woman who owned the house found Mando Jacobs, who was stabbed more than 20 times.

dependent clauses:

He wrote to them about his experience when he found pen and paper.

When he found pen and paper, he wrote to them about his experience.

participial phrases:

Soaring ever higher in a summer afternoon thermal, I saw an eagle.

I saw an eagle soaring ever higher in a summer afternoon thermal.

So much of grammar is common sense: put the modifying phrase next to the thing it modifies. But if you’re willing to sacrifice your reputation to give the rest of us a good laugh, stick it in anywhere. It’s cheaper for us than a comedy club, and there’s no two-drink minimum.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

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