Writing with style


Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers



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Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

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.


Parallel Structure

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 mowed the 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 went when 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:

Regardless of 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.

Incorrect: I enjoy spending time with people that have similar interests as me.

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”:

The good boy got a sticker as a reward for doing his homework well.

I feel well.


Hint: To test for who/whom, substitute he/him in the sentence. If he fits, use who; if him fits, use whom.

who/whom: Who does the action; whom receives the action:



Who will feed the dragon?

Whom will you take to the dance?
your/you’re: To show possession, use your; you’re means “you are”:

Thanks for letting me share your apartment.



You’re going to love this next tune.

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