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  1. Viamence
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    Viamence Member

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    Dangling Modifiers

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Viamence, Feb 6, 2009.

    I have two issues I need advice on. One is about the article preceding "usurper", and the other is on dangling modifiers/possible run-on sentence.

    Google searches have shown both to be acceptable, but I'd like to receive an answer from a more credible source (like here).

    Example sentence:
    (Dialogue)
    "You could never be forced to live in fear of a Usurper attack."

    Is this an exception due to the pronunciation of the word? I've taken a look at the link for "A vs An" that was provided in another thread, but figured I'd throw this in here just to be certain.
    ____________

    I'd also like to receive some input on the following sentence. I'm told it suffers from 'dangling modifiers'. I've researched dangling modifiers and I'm still hazy on what aspects of this sentence are in need of correction.

    "Sinking into the vinyl cushion, Hal observed the driver shouting obscenities, flailing and stewing in rapidly deteriorating temperament as he wrestled through traffic at an agonizing crawl."

    What part of this sentence is a run-on? I've been told it suffers from that as well.


    Any additional advice is most welcome.
     
  2. Vayda
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    Vayda Senior Member

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    As for usurper, both are acceptable but it's awkward to read either way. The best solution would be a rephrase, such as "You could never be forced to live in fear of being usurped."

    Your sentence does NOT suffer from dangling modifiers, nor is it a run on, but it's not the best written sentence in the world.

    A run on sentence is often a term thrown at any long sentence, but that's not what it means. A run on sentence occurs when a single sentence contains two independent clauses with nothing joining them together; i.e., no ", and" or no semicolon, et cetera. An example of this would be the sentence "I went to the store I got milk." You see, there are two independent clauses there ("I went to the store" and "I got milk") with nothing to join them together.

    Your sentence, although very complex, has only one independent clause: "Hal observed the driver shouting obscenities". The rest of your clauses are subordinate, or dependent. "Sinking into the vinyl cushion" has no subject, and is therefore subordinate; "flailing and stewing in rapidly deteriorating temperament" is dependent for the same reason; "as he wrestled through traffic at an agonizing crawl" is subordinated by the preceding "as".

    In regards to the dangling modifier, you are sort of guilty of this.

    A dangling modifier is when you have a clause modifying the incorrect subject, such as "Inside the china cabinet, I saw the plates." Literally read or diagrammed, this sentence means that the "I" is inside the china cabinet, looking out at some plates. Obviously that's nonsense, but that's the problem with dangling modifiers.

    In your sentence, you begin with the modifier "Sinking into the vinyl cushion," which should, grammatically, modify your subject, Hal. Logically, this works, so your sentence does not, in fact, contain an incorrect modifier. However, because this structure almost always happens because the writer is dangling something, the reader is likely to assume you're making a mistake and mentally stick the "Sinking into the vinyl cushion" to the driver. If the reader reads it that way, in the commonly-done-but-wrong fashion, the sentence makes no sense.

    Is it incorrect as it stands? No. Is it hard to read? Unfortunately yes. It could probably be a stronger sentence with a rephrase, or perhaps made into two sentences.


    Hope this helps!
     
  3. Viamence
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    Viamence Member

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    Much appreciated, Vayda. The lines were taken from a short story I had submitted in class and I asked my professor to rip it apart (figuratively, of course :p). She filled each page with complaints of dangling modifiers and fragments.

    I've revised the passage to:
    "Sinking into the vinyl cushion, Hal listened as the driver – Mister H, was it? – shouted obscenities out the window. Flailing in rapidly deteriorating temperament, Mister H wrestled through traffic at an agonizing crawl."

    Does this seem to fix the problem with comprehension? I can see how the sentence was confusing to a reader.

    The issue I'm frustrated over is that she applied the 'dangling modifier' tag to a number of lines throughout the story, and I'm dubious as to whether they all technically apply. Would you mind giving input on another line? This was also called out as being a run-on with a dangling modifier.

    "The grown-up men these days were always tense; lashing out at friends, family and passersby as the conflict with the foreign Usurpers dragged invariably into its fifth year."


    ___________________________________

    ""Yes, Ma," he replied, and clambered into the car."
    The latter portion of this sentence is accused of being a fragment. Was my professor justified in saying so?


    Thanks again, you're a huge help.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Usurper is pronounced with a leading consonant sound (the Y in you is considered a consonant), so the indefinite article a is appropriate. The pronunciation is what drives the rule, irrespective of the spelling.

    A small quibble: A run on sentence is not the same as an overly complicated, meandering sentence. A run on sentence is two or more independent clauses not joined by a conjunction, e.g.:
    A confusing sentence that tries to tell an entire scene in a single breath is often far worse than a run on sentence.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    how long does it take for anyone to 'sink into a cushion'?... and how long was hal listening to the driver shouting obscenities?... therein lies the most major problem with your wording...
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It may depend on the viscosity of the cushion and how much you struggle. ;)
     
  7. Vayda
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    Vayda Senior Member

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    First sentence: I would use a colon and rephrase it to "The grown up men these days were always tense: they lashed out at friends at passersby as the conflict wore on"...or something like it. I don't think you need to specify who the conflict is with unless there are several conflicts going on.

    I also don't think your second sentence is a fragment, and I'm beginning to question your teacher. I'm wondering if she, like so many lovers of English, is a literature person, and not a grammarian. Your wording is awkward, yes, but she's throwing labels onto sentences where they just don't apply.

    It would be better worded "he replied, clambering into the car" or "he replied as he clambered into the car"...but as it stands, it's not great, but it's not a fragment.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    vayda:
    a colon is not called for there and shouldn't be used in fiction, anyway, as anywhere you might put one [properly], a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job...

    and the simplest version that via used is the best... your more complicated ones change the meaning, first of all, as he had a sequence of events: first the response and then the action... your too-wordy versions combine the two, as if happening at the same time...

    via:
    as for that bit of dialog, it's nothing like a 'fragment' and is only a bit of action tacked on to a dialog tag, which is usually not a good idea, but in this case can be excused...

    here's a real fragment:

    as you can see, it looks like a sentence, but does not have the requisite subject and verb... your words would have been a fragment, only if done like this:

    hope this helps... hugs, maia
     
  9. Vayda
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    Vayda Senior Member

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    Maia: I disagree. Although you're right that the comma/dash/whatever could do the same job, I think that a colon CAN certainly be used in fiction and sometimes it's just the best thing for the job. I'm not saying it's particularly best here, but I think it's wrong to say that another mark will always do a better job.

    Also, the clause after her semicolon is incorrect, because it is not an independent clause. The clause alone is "lashing out at friends, family and passersby as the conflict with the foreign Usurpers dragged invariably into its fifth year" which lacks the, as your wonderful words were, requisite subject. I understand that the subject is assumed from the first half of the sentence, but I think with something as strict as a semicolon separating it, there's some rule about both clauses needing to be independent. *goes to find her little brown handbook*
     
  10. Viamence
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    Viamence Member

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    I appreciate the input from the three of you.

    Even if some opinions are divided, it's prompted me to examine this and other short works with renewed scrutiny. ;) I've altered a fair amount of awkward phrasing.
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I've revised the passage to:
    "Sinking into the vinyl cushion, Hal listened as the driver – Mister H, was it? – shouted obscenities out the window. Flailing in rapidly deteriorating temperament, Mister H wrestled through traffic at an agonizing crawl."

    I don’t know why you wish to start both sentences with an ing word.

    It doesn’t take much time to sink into a vinyl cushion, yet it seems to take Hal a long time. He had enough time to listen to the driver, ponder if his name was Mister H, and listen to the obscenities he shouted out the window.

    What if he was already seated? Or is it important that you paint the image that he is in the process of sitting?

    Seated in the vinyl cushion, Hal listened as the driver—Mister H, was it? shouted obscenities out the window.

    Hal sank into the vinyl cushion and listened as the driver—Mister H, was it? shouted obscenities out the window.

    Flailing in rapidly deteriorating temperament << To me this reads oddly. Why not angrily?

    Hal sank into the vinyl cushion and listened as the driver—Mister H, was it? shouted obscenities out the window. Angrily, Mr. H wrestled through traffic at an agonizing crawl.

    Because this is written from Hal’s POV, then he must be the one who thinks Mr. H wrestled through traffic at an agonizing crawl. The way you worded it makes it sound like Hal is irritated by how slowly Mr. H is making his way through traffic. I would consider ending the sentence at traffic.

    Either way I wouldn’t start two sentences back to back with a phrase, or an introductory clause, and especially not both with an ing word. That is just my opinion of course, but I think you will find it hard to find two such sentences back to back in a novel that has won awards.

    **

    "The grown-up men these days were always tense; lashing out at friends, family and passersby as the conflict with the foreign Usurpers dragged invariably into its fifth year."

    The semicolon should be a comma. The problem is though, you added two extra actions to the subject, which makes it confusion, or harder to read. I would go with one or the other, and then write a new sentence.

    The grown up men these days were always tense, and they lashed out at friends, family, and passerby as the conflict with the foreign Usurpers dragged invariably into its fifth year.

    The grown up men these days were always tense. They lashed out at friends, family, and passerby as the conflict with the . . .

    Then again, saying they were always tense, and then showing how they were tense is repetitive. Perhaps something like this is better.

    As the conflict with the foreign Usurpers dragged invariably into the fifth year, the group of men lashed out at friends, family, and passerby. Or you can reverse the clauses. The group of men lashed out at friends, family, and passerby as the conflict with the foreign Usurpers dragged invariable into the fifth year.

    **

    ""Yes, Ma," he replied, and clambered into the car."
    The latter portion of this sentence is accused of being a fragment. Was my professor justified in saying so?

    By itself—and clambered into the car—is a fragment. But because you have attached it to an independent clause, it is correct. I think the comma is only needed after relied because it is a tag for the dialog.

    But commas are not needed before a dependent clause that comes after an independent clause, unless the meaning is unclear with out the comma.

    Here is an example: John strutted down the sidewalk and clambered into his car.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    why's the poor guy have to sink at all??? ;-)

    this is a prime example of tossing in silly details that don't do a thing for the story...

    now, if you'd established that the guy was worn out after a long, hard day doing whatever, and was 'sinking gratefully into the comfy cushions' wherever, it might make some sense, but here it sure doesn't...

    first of all, because where have you ever found nice comfy cushions in a normal taxicab?... sure, i've enjoyed same in monaco's uber-upscale cabs [mercedes and beemers!], but the vinyl-clad slabs in most taxis sure ain't sink-into-able!
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Maia, sing-into-able, I like that. :)
     
  14. Viamence
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    Viamence Member

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    Actually, what I originally intended to show was Hal slinking lower into the seat as time wore on.

    Think of it as if you were attending a particularly boring lecture and your posture gradually changed from 'attentive' to 'stupor'.

    I was in the shower this afternoon and I realized I really didn't mean to use the word 'sink' at all. :rolleyes:

    'Slouch' would probably be preferable.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that makes a biiiiig difference!... and 'cushions' in re the passenger seat in a normal cab also needs a bit of a change, don't you think?... plus, consider the relative meanings of 'into' and 'onto'...
     
  16. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a comma splice. You either need to remove the comma or add a subject:

    "Yes, Ma," he replied and clambered into the car.

    or

    "Yes, Ma," he replied, and he clambered into the car.

    Of course, that's if you wish to keep the original wording of the sentence. Otherwise you could do something like:

    ...he replied as he clambered into the car.

    or

    ...he replied before clambering into the car.

    But as it stands it is incorrect.
     

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