Oops, I dangled

In yesterday’s GoLocalProv

A good sentence, no matter how long, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end without becoming confused by the use of bad grammar. When I write, I am constantly thinking of proper grammar, a discipline instilled in me by a remarkable teacher I had at Classical High School. More about her later.

Old Classical

Recently, in trying to figure where and when to place a comma, I re-read the book Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Travis. The book has sold over a million copies since its release in 2003. No, I did not forget commas in the title. That IS the title.

In school, we were taught the rules of grammar; rules that should never be violated. Much has changed, and there is not enough room here for me to tell you of the many changes/acceptances/breaking of rules once sacrosanct are now accepted.

For example, nowadays, it is OK to split an infinitive, use apostrophes to connote possession, join two ideas using a semicolon or end a sentence with a preposition, whereas in Miss MacDonald’s English class at Classical High School, we might be hung for doing so.

Just look at this. I was reading about a couple of grammatical techniques, one the tricolon … a series of parallel words or phrases like football, fraternities, and fun. I think we called that alliteration. And the dangling participle, a modifier in search of a word to modify. Danglings! Horror! Spare me! My fear of days gone by has resurfaced!

Now to my story.  MacDonald was a stickler for correct grammar in the spoken and written word. I shuddered when she made us present, particularly in debates. But I learned and, moreso, I learned that it was anathema to use a dangling participle. She barked, “If you use one dangling participle in a story, it’s an automatic “D.” If you use two, that’s an “F.”
For example, here is a deadly dangler that would have fired up the wrath of Miss MacDonald: “After laying a large egg, the farmer presented his favorite chicken.” It should have been, “After laying a large egg, the chicken was presented as the farmer’s favorite.” The farmer did not lay the egg.

For one assignment at Classical, I wrote a story which I titled, The Tragedy.
Miss MacDonald stood in front of the class to hand out the corrected papers. She got to mine. I waited with some anticipation for a great comment since I thought the story was so good.
“Iannuccilli wrote this story titled, The Tragedy and a tragedy it is. It has two, two mind you, dangling participles. I never read it once I spotted them. “F” Iannuccilli. Here’s the paper.” Do you think I have ever written a dangling participle since?

Grammar is the necessary bane of not just the writer, but everyone. Take care to avoid dangling modifiers or you run the risk of giving your readers an unintended reason to laugh at your work.

Don’t dangle your participle.

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