Avoid misplacing modifiers by placing them next to the word they modify. Misplaced modifiers have been placed incorrectly, making the meaning of the sentence unclear:
Misplaced: They sold an assortment of exercise equipment for active people with a lifetime guarantee.
Correct: For active people, they sold an assortment of exercise equipment with a lifetime guarantee.
Misplaced: The thief decided to run when he saw the police officer abandoning the stolen vehicle and dashing into the woods.
Correct: When he saw the police officer, the thief decided to run, abandoning the stolen vehicle and dashing into the woods.
Avoid dangling modifiers that appear to modify a word that isn’t in the sentence:
Dangling:Carrying a heavy stack of trays, her foot caught in the doorway.
Correct: Carrying a heavy stack of trays, Jenny caught her foot in the doorway.
Dangling: Adjusting the binoculars, a dizzy-headed jay was finally spotted.
Correct: Adjusting the binoculars, Audrey finally spotted a dizzy-headed jay.
Maintain parallel structure by expressing parallel ideas with the same tense or structure of words or phrases in a sentence:
Wrong: We learned how to change a tire, shift sixteen gears, and once
almost ran the truck off the road.
Correct: We learned how to change a tire, shift sixteen gears, and keep the truck from running off the road.
Wrong: I have mowedthe lawn, washed the dog, rescued our hamster, and went to the store all in one day.
Correct: I mowed the lawn, washed the dog, rescued our hamster, and went to the store all in one day.
Wrong: Water skiing no longer interests me as much as to go scuba diving.
Correct: Water skiing no longer interests me as much as scuba diving.
USING THE RIGHT WORD
For more information and examples, see Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style: http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk3.html a lot: a lot is always two words; however, a lot is a vague descriptive phrase that should be avoided in formal writing:
Informal: I have a lot of jelly beans in my lunch.
Formal: I have many jelly beans in my lunch.
accept/except: accept means “to receive or take”; except means “to leave out”:
I will happily accept your offer of a free lunch.
Except for Joe, everyone has really cool purple shoes.
affect/effect: affect is a verb that means “to influence”; effect is most commonly seen as a noun that means “result,” but it is also used as a verb that means “to bring about”:
Affect = Action (v.)
The movie affected me so much that I cried.
The love potion had a strange effect on Rosie.
I ran for office to effect change in our school.
all right: all right is always two words; there is no such word as alright:
I’ll be all right once I catch my breath.
among/between: among refers to three or more persons or things; between refers to only two persons or things:
Among the three of us, we could not produce a single good idea.
However, between you and me, we have enough money for lunch.
amount/number: amount refers to a quantity that cannot be counted; number refers to a quantity that can be counted:
A great amount of water flooded my bathroom when I left the tap on.
A large number of water drops splattered on my windshield.
bad/badly: bad is always an adjective; badly is always an adverb:
The bad child was sent to his room.
There he practiced badly on his tuba.
I feel bad (ill). I feel badly (have an inferior tactile sense).
beside/besides: beside means “next to”; besides means “in addition to”:
Besides Newt, everyone on the team got new tennis shoes.
I stood beside Newt when he sunk the first shot.
can/may: can indicates ability; may indicates permission:
I can solve algebra problems.
You may go to the restroom.
fewer/less: fewer refers to quantities that can be counted; less refers to quantities that cannot be counted. (Same rule as amount/number):
You can count scoops of ice cream but not ice cream in general.
I got fewer scoops of ice cream than she did.
I got less ice cream than she did.
further/farther: further refers to a greater extent, time or degree; farther refers to a greater distance:
We will discuss post modernism further tomorrow.
I plan to go several inches farther on my next long-jump attempt.
goes/went: Do not use go or wentwhen you mean say or said:
Then she said (not goes), “No way!”
hanged/hung: A person is hanged; everything else is hung.
The outlaw was hanged at high noon in the sycamore gulch.
The velvet Elvis painting hung prominently in the bathroom.
have (not of): write could have, should have, would have, might have, etc.
Wrong: I could of won.
Right: I could have won; I just didn’t feel like it.
i.e./e.g.: The Latin abbreviation i.e. means “that is.” The abbreviation e.g. means “for example”:
The country’s leader (i.e., the president) declared war.
I love candy (e.g., chocolate truffles).
it’s/its: Use its to describe something that it possesses; it’s is the contraction of it is:
Without its mother, the monster felt lonely and scared.
It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.
lay/lie: The transitive verb lay means “to put or place” (the subject does the action to something); the intransitive verb lie means “to rest or recline” (the subject does the action).
Please lay your completed test on the table.
After that scare, I needed to lie down.
Hint: Memorizing the principal parts of these two verbs will help you use them correctly:
Infinitive Present Participle Past Past Participle
Lie (to recline) (is) lying lay (have) lain
Lay (to put) (is) laying laid (have) laid
past/passed: Past is a noun that means “history,” an adverb (e.g., He rode past), or a preposition (e.g., Go past the store and turn left); passed is the past tense of the verb pass:
In the past plagues wiped out vast populations.
Marcus rode past her house every day.
I passed Belinda in the hall.
real/really: Real is an adjective; really is an adverb that describes the degree of an adjective:
Her boyfriend bought her a real diamond.
Because I’m really tired, I’ll go to bed now.
regardless: Regardless means “without regard”; there is no such word as irregardless:
Regardlessof his natural talent, he did not make the team.
rise/raise: Rise means “to move upward” (the subject does the action); raise means “to lift or make something go up” (the subject does the action to something else):
I plan to rise early to go fishing.
The Boy Scouts will raise the flag at the ceremony.
said/says: Said is the past tense of the verb to say; says is the present tense:
Yesterday he said he wanted to quit.
My aunt always says, “Pretty is as pretty does.”
slow/slowly: Slow is an adjective; slowly is an adverb:
The slow tortoise never wins races.
After spraining his ankle, he slowly crossed the finish line.
that/which: Use that to introduce essential clauses not set off by commas; use which to introduce nonessential clauses.
The mirror that once hung in the front hall cracked. (no commas)
My car, which has a sunroof, gets good gas mileage. (commas)
that/who: Use who, whom, or whose to refer to people; use that or which to refer to things.
Correct: I enjoy spending time with people who have similar interests as me.
their/there/they’re: To show possession, use their; there is a place; and there is a contraction for they are:
Their matching outfits make them look like twins.
I love the zoo; let’s go there.
They’re as slow as molasses in January.
to/too/two: To is a preposition that can mean “in the direction of” or it can form the infinitive of any verb. Too means “also” or is an adverb indicating degree. And two is a number:
Let’s go to the mall. (preposition)
Jeff would like to go too. (infinitive/ “also”)
It will be too crowded. (adverb showing degree)
We will need to take two cars. (infinitive/ number)
try to (not try and): Try to means “attempt”; never use try and
Try to avoid waking a sleeping alligator.
well/good: Good is an adjective (modifies a noun); well is an adverb (modifies a verb) that means “capably” or an adjective that means “satisfactory” or “in good health”: