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Friday, August 31, 2012

Don't misplace your modifiers

Talk about going to extreme lengths for advertising.

“Hung as the signage for Mojo's Cycles, the owner says the bike is a Sears model.” But unless he, and not the bike, really is suspended above his store, this sentence, found in a Toronto newspaper, illustrates the grammatical error called a misplaced modifier.

I know you expect your weekly Wordlady to be a word history rather than a grammar lesson, but this very common mistake really bugs me, so bear with me while I rant.

Make sure that descriptive phrases are properly attached to the thing they describe, to avoid unintended and sometimes hilarious consequences like the following, all found in Toronto newspapers. Those of you who would never misplace a modifier can just laugh or feel smug. But judging by the frequency of these errors, many people can just not see what the problem is, so I have highlighted the misplaced modifier in red and the thing it is grammatically (but not intentionally) modifying in green.

Small enough to take with you on your next shopping trip, wine experts Phillips and Harradine guide you through the best-value wines at the LCBO.”

“A 53-year-old Winnipeg truck driver, who has been in Canada since he was a baby, has been deported to England, where he was born after being convicted on drug charges.

Built for people on the go, Oakville's Mariel Bradley has produced a cookbook.”

Meant to reflect the newly revamped ROM, the station's leaky, moldy tiles have been replaced by five column designs.”

And the all-time, cringe-inducing winner:

“This latest contraceptive is a flexible ring, about the diameter of an egg, worn as far up your vagina as you can push it for three weeks at a time.

See what I mean?? DON'T MISPLACE YOUR MODIFIERS!!

For another entertaining misplaced modifier, see my "Casting dispersions" post.


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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.