1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Dangling modifier

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcusl, Nov 17, 2009.

    According to The Little Green Writing Book, the below has a dangling modifier:

    "We make recommendations for fixing all the problems in this report."

    Apparently, to correct the sentence, "in this report" should be moved to the top. Could someone explain this? Thanks heaps.
     
  2. SHorgan
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    SHorgan Member

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    The sentence can be interpreted as:

    "We make recommendations to fix all of the problems that can be found within this report."
    "In this report, we make recommendations for fixing all of the problems from an exterior source."

    Hope that helps :)

    Simon
     
  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    OP--I understand the REPORT to contain the problems in the first sentence because
    'the problems that can be found within this report'
    reads like a self-contained phrase.

    If the REPORT is making the recommendations, the sentence must be clarified:
    "We make recommendations IN THIS REPORT for fixing all the problems."
    OR
    "In this report, we make recommendations for fixing all the problems."

    In other words, don't have the 'recommendations' and the 'report' at opposite ends of the sentence. I'm assuming that whatever 'the problems' are, they are clear to the reader because they have been mentioned earlier in the text, btw.

    Also, I would avoid using 'within' unless I purposely wanted to sound like a pedantic Dickensian barrister. Combined with the modern and slightly informal word 'fix' (at any rate for a native British English user, I know it's more common in the US), it is a real crisis of writing style IMO. If you want to use formal English, 'solve' would be a better word.
     
  4. SHorgan
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    SHorgan Member

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    What's wrong with 'within'?
     
  5. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's just that much more old fashioned and formal--which is fine if that's the effect that you're aiming for. 'In' serves the purpose just as well.
     
  6. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is this a personal preference? The reason I ask is because there are times when "in" would suffice, but there are also instances when something is in with a group of other somethings requiring it to be to referred to as "within".

    Jus' sayin'. :p
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using 'within' to mean 'in' or 'inside' is very formal. I checked a minute ago in my dictionary, and it was down as 'formal' so apparently this is not just my personal preferance.
    'In' also means 'inside/within', so there is no need to use it unless you want to be formal.
     
  8. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Formal: Adjective.
    Being in accord with established forms and conventions and requirements.

    I suspect this is the definition of formal that the dictionary is referring to. Doesn't necessarily mean old, stuffy usage, just that it's the accepted norm. I find it curious how folks get a bee in their bonnet over certain words and usage.

    The word "in" predates the 12th century, too. Making a blanket statement that a certain word is not to be used because it has the word "formal" beside its definition is, in my opinion, faulty advice.

    After all, if we start culling words because they're too old, how will we communicate with each other? Where does it end? Leetspeek? Grunts and hand gestures? Jk. :p
     
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  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    But maybe you are chosing a definition to suit yourself? I just said that it was down as 'formal', I didn't quote any definition of formal. However, many people would understand 'formal', as in the expression 'using formal vocabulary', to mean 'following an established lexis, suitable for official or academic purposes' i.e. formal words are not always appropriate or desirable in modern writing, it depends what style you want.

    I don't suggest that culling words is a good idea per se, but while some words continue to be current, others become less common in modern English. I wouldn't worry that we will be left without enough words to communicate in--the English language has around a quarter of a million words, many more than most world languages.
     
  10. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess I'll just have to agree to disagree and refer to my initial thoughts.
    If the intended meaning is to convey that something is not only inside but amongst other somethings, then within is preferable. I can understand that if someone used "within" in certain cases it would appear pedantic as well as incorrect. (such as, I am within the room) It depends on usage. I sincerely hope my point makes it across this time because I don't intend to belabor it further.
     
  11. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Thanks for all your replies.

    Is it possible to avoid dangling modifiers simply by having the subject at the front of the sentence? If not, could you think of an example where this approach won't work? Thanks again.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dangling modifiers often come about because the writer is trying to stuff too much into the sentence. Everything is competing for proximity to the subject or the verb, and a modifier drifts away as a result.

    Instead of repacking the same sack, try dividing into a couple of smaller ones.
     
  13. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just make it clear who/what the modifier is describing or giving more detail to.

    Incorrect: Having finished the homework, the video game was played. (video game is the subject, leaving the modifier dangling since a video game obviously can't do homework.)

    Correct: Having finished the homework, he played a video game.

    Or:

    He played a video game after finishing his homework.

    Doesn't really matter where as long as the subject is clear.

    Edit: while I was posting, Cogito made a much more relevant point. You can see how my revised sentences are simpler. Go for that.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, the video game is the subject in that sentence. The referent for the modifier (he who is playing the video game) doesn't even exist in the base sentence (The video game was played).
     
  15. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I screwed that up. Told ya it was incorrect. :D Fixed. Good catch!
     
  16. SHorgan
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    SHorgan Member

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    Does the correct sentence have a dangling modifier though?

    EDIT: Don't worry, I see it.. it being that the sentence can be interpreted as "Once the video game finished its homework, it was played."

    Yes?
     
  17. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Really? THAT is a dangling modifier? It's simply a fashion of writing something so that it is ambiguous.

    The sentence can be interpreted, as SHorgan has stated, to mean that they make recommendations for fixing all the problems that are within 'this' report, OR it can be interpreted as meaning that, in this report, they make recommendations for fixing 'all the problems' from an external source.

    To avoid ambiguity, move the 'in this report' to the front of the sentence, and no mistake will be made.

    Interesting.
     

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