Sections
You are here: Home Workshops SKIP: Skills for International Postgraduates Workshop Notes SVO: Editing Clear Sentences

SVO: Editing Clear Sentences

 

 Essential Grammar and Punctuation

 

Sentences communicate information from the writer to the reader. Correct grammar and syntax ensure that the information is conveyed unambiguously. Grammar establishes certain rules for writing and speech; syntax involves the order and relationship of the words in the sentence. Grammar is the electronic wiring that makes the telephone work. You cannot connect any wire to any other wire and expect that the machine will work. Similarly, you cannot put words in any order in the sentence and expect the sentence to communicate.

 

Let’s look first at the wiring, the parts of speech, and then at the complete machine, the sentence and then at ways to make the sentence communicate more clearly and without static.

The black panther stared  menacingly from the tree.

Nouns: the names of people and things (drop bear, tree, dress, Umberto, James Cook University, beauty, death). To find the noun, ask who or what of the verb? Who stared from the tree? The  panther.

Proper Nouns: (names of specific people or titles. Proper nouns are the only nouns that  have capitals- all other nouns use lower case). Li, Farida, Moses, President Bush,  King George (but note: “The president walked into the room”, “The king opened parliament”).

Adjectives: describe and modify nouns (what sort of panther? A black one)

Verbs:  describe the action (swing, eat, sleep, write, talk, be, die). To find the verb, ask what did the subject do? What did the panther do? It stared

Adverbs: modify verbs (how did it swing? menacingly)

Prepositions: show position and relation of one thing to another (under, over, by, in, beside).

Pronouns: stand for nouns (eg. It, this, I, me, you, we, us, our, who, which, that)

 

Note that every word in the sentence should be related to something else. To find out if it is in the right place, ask a question of the word. There should be an answer. Good editing requires that the writer read and ask questions of every sentence. If there is not a clear answer in the sentence, then the sentence needs to be rewritten (look at the section below Keep Verbs Consistent for examples of sentences which do not provide answers).

 

*

The clearest structure for an English speaker to understand is the SVO order. That is Subject — Verb — Object.

Note that this framework is a complete idea, and note also that the verb is the essential lynch pin. Without the verb the subject and the object cannot relate to each other. The verb is the action, it is the expression of what the subject/agent is doing; without that expression, there cannot be a result or an object.

Compare the following:

 

Kim entered the room.

Kim tiptoed into the room.

Kim staggered into the room.

Kim crawled into the room.

Kim minced into the room.

Kim exploded into the room.

 

Only the verbs change, but the mental picture in the head is quite different. The choice of the verb alters the message communicated.

But that is creative writing, is this necessary in academic writing?

 

Compare

Bloggs (2004) says/writes that wigeons breed only in temperatures exceeding 25 degrees.

Bloggs reported/ observed/ considered/ insisted/ maintained/ speculated/ hypothesised/ claimed…..

Vary the verbs so that the reader can see that you have read the article, understood the implications, and contextualised Bloggs’ statement in the broader context of the literature.

 

Words relate to each other in a sentence, and so do the parts of the sentence.

 

A sentence can be as short as a subject and verb, or can be very long with subordinate support units. By and large, sentences should not exceed three typed lines.

 

A sentence is a complete thought. One idea = one sentence. Do not overload sentences with information.

 

SVO    A simple sentence needs a subject, a verb and sometimes an object. To find the subject of a sentence, ask the question who or what of the verb.

 

The cat sat on the mat. Who sat on the mat? The cat.

 

To find the verb, ask what the noun/subject did. What did the cat do? It sat. If there is no subject or verb in the sentence, then the sentence is in trouble.

 

The subject should go near the front of the sentence, but not necessarily be the first word:

Sitting under the shade of a green olive tree, the goat was a picture of contentment as it languidly digested its lunch.

 

A sentence can be very short:

Go! [understood subject is you]

I am. [subject and verb]

 

Simple sentence—control unit only

The ginger kitten hissed menacingly.


Complex sentence—control unit and support unit or units

The ginger kitten, cornered by a pack of dogs, hissed menacingly at the approaching enemies

 

The support units are in italics. Sentences are made up of a mixture of control and support units. Sophisticated sentences use many support units, but a proper sentence must always have at least one control unit somewhere in there.

 

Control unit/support unit (principal clause/ subordinate clauses)

 

Although it was cold (support unit)

Although it was cold, I didn’t bother with a coat.

The sea that day, although it was cold, was a wonderful sight.

Nobody lit a fire, although it was cold.

 

Complex Sentences ( note the SVO structure is continued even in support units)

 

a) The 1903 paper, “Refutation of Idealism”, had an equally powerful impact. Before this paper appeared, the prevailing mode of philosophy both on the Continent and in the English-speaking world was idealism. It took many different forms, some post-Kantian, some post-Hegelian, and some post-Berkeleyan, but all of them had in common the notion that reality was ultimately mental.

 

b) Stephen J Gould: Questioning the Millenium, 33.

 

The human brain is the most complex computing device ever evolved in the history of our planet. I do not doubt that conventional Darwinian reasons of adaptive advantage underlie its unparalleled size and intricacy. Nonetheless, many of our brain’s most distinctive attributes, centrepieces for any concept of a universal human nature, cannot be viewed as direct products of natural selection but must arise as incidental side consequences of the original reasons for such an increase  in size.(For example, if I buy a personal computer only to keep the spreadsheet on my family finances, the machine, by virtue of inbuilt structure and quite apart from my intent, can perform a plethora of unanticipated tasks as yet unconceived by any user. The more complex the device, the greater the number of potential side consequences. The human brain is ever so much more powerful than this personal computer)

 

Punctuation

 

Generally, punctuation can help the reader discern the difference between the control unit and the support unit/s. Commas  etc, are the marks which show what belongs in what unit in a sentence.

 

Let’s eat Harry!

 

Here, there is no punctuation, and so the reader sees that the object of the verb ‘eat’ is Harry. We can ask the question:  whom shall we eat? The answer is Harry. If there is a comma after “eat” then the reader knows that the expression. “let’s eat” is one unit of thought, and is separated from Harry, which is seen as an aside- he is being addressed and asked whether he wants to eat.

 

When feeding a shark often mistakes undesirable food items for something it really desires.

 

Without punctuation, it is unclear whether the sentence means, “when [you] are feeding a shark….”

 

When I last heard of him he was still acting naturally.

When I last heard of him he was still acting, naturally.

 

Here, without punctuation, the first sentence means that he was acting naturally (like a normal, unpretentious person). The second one says that she was acting (i.e. posing, pretending) and the “naturally” becomes a sarcastic aside which implies: “Well, that is what I would expect from such a pretentious person”

 

The exhibition opens with an anonymous painting in which 16th century Venetian diplomats identifiable only by their simple dress in comparison with the rich garb of the locals are being presented  to a Mamluk leader.

 

The Third Partition of Poland was the last and undoubtedly the most humiliating act in the sorry decline of the once-powerful kingdom.

 

The people of Cornwall who depend upon fishing for their livelihood, initiated a strike against the new EC quotas

 

The police although alerted too late for them to catch the thief that day continued their investigations.

 

Unfortunately nothing of that nature was forthcoming the senator was clearly a troubled man.

 

A capital letter marks the beginning of a declarative sentence a period signals the end

 

Note the different uses of however:

However people react, they will nevertheless always insist that they were justified in so doing.

[however = in whatever way]

 

However, the effects of cholate on peptide carboxylase have not yet been fully studied.

[however= link to show contradiction]

 

The final report, however, was not released until the politician had fled the country.

[however= link to show contradiction]

 

Fused Sentences and Comma Splices need Semi-Colons (;)

The following notes have examples of when, and when not, to insert punctuation.

 

1. The course was difficult it required five different texts.

 

[A fused sentence – what could be two control units. They are strong and need to be separated by a comma, full stop or semi-colon, or because/and/ but ...

         The course was difficult because it required five different texts.

2. The lemonade was too tart, however, James drank it anyway.

[Again, what could almost be 2 control units. Place a semi-colon after tart]

 

3. Janet was distraught, she couldn’t find her research paper notes.

 

[here, try a semi colon after distraught OR  join with a real word: …distraught because she … note that good writing  puts in all the words so the reader can see the writer’s reasoning. Don’t forget to use because if you want to say there is a cause and effect]

 

4. Ernest Hemingway’s style is quite distinctive, he makes extensive use of the compound sentence to create an impression of balanced tension.

 

In 4, the comma between distinctive and he is not strong enough to carry what again could be  2 control units.

 

To edit:

 

  • Separate into independent sentences
  • Use a semi colon 
  • Use a subordinating conjunction (because, for, and, …)

 

Semicolons separate items which require commas to mark off sub support units.

That is, semicolons act as headings to distinguish the main units. If there are no subunits, then use commas, not semi-colons.

 

The dingfluff is known for three main characteristics: its reproductive flexibility, because it is both hermaphrodite and heterosexual; its diet, which consists entirely of vegemite sandwiches; and its longevity, as some dingfluffs live to 356.

 

A multitude of grafting techniques have been employed by plant propagators over many years.  These techniques may be classified into three broad categories: (1) the detached scion, where the scion is removed from the plant and then grafted; (2) the approach method, where the scion is grafted to the rootstock and removed from the mother plant after the union is established; and (3) the repair method, which is applicable for repairing damaged mature trees (Hartmann et al. 2002). 

 

 

Do Not Separate SVO by Punctuation

The essential unit of meaning is a SVO and so this unit cannot be divided up.

1. Exegesis of biblical and patristic literature, has been undertaken for at least two thousand years. (Separation of S and O)

Rather: Exegesis of biblical and patristic literature has been undertaken for at least two thousand years.

 

2. The woman in the red suit, is the owner of the purple car. (Separation of S and O)

Rather: The woman in the red suit is the owner of the purple car

3. Following analysis by SIMS and FLUX, the core samples were removed, to the outlying coral reefs where they were reburied. (Separation  of V and O)

Rather: Following analysis by SIMS and FLUX, the core samples were removed to the outlying coral reefs where they were reburied.

 

[To find object: ask the question of the verb: where were they removed to?

Object cannot be separated from its verb.]

COLONS

To indicate that a list, statement or quotation is to follow:

John Paul Getty once made this observation: “If you can calculate how much you have, then you are not a billionaire.”

We need to check the following items: printers, answering machines and mobile phones.

BUT NOT:

The secretary typed: letters, memos and reports.

The colon can only be used to preface a list if the words before the colon could be a complete sentence.

X: There are three types of marsupial including: koalas, kangaroos and wombats.

√: There are three types of marsupial: koalas, kangaroos and  wombats.

OR The three types of marsupials are koalas, kangaroos and wombats

Colons can also be used to summarise or clarify words:

The author made a difficult decision: he would abandon the script. (To abandon the script is the decision)

 

Music communicates: it is an expression of deep feeling. (The deep feeling is what music communicates)

Colons introduce bulleted points. The words before a colon should be a control unit.

The study involves 3 factors:

  • Data-gathering
  • Analysis
  • Interpretation

 

 

 

Punctuation Practice:

In some continental countries of this region, cities were established originally at the ocean mouth of a large river, but, as the river delta has extended seaward, now find themselves inland; examples include Bangkok (Thailand) and Tokyo (Japan).

 

The eastern Kanto Plain is a relatively flat dissected plain where even in the early stages of the postglacial transgression rich coastal environments would have existed at reasonably convenient distances from high dry bluffs, a place humans could live comfortably.

 

The sea would flood narrow valleys on the dissected plain creating a complex coastline with multitudes of small bays, estuaries, and coves.

 

Dr Altieri found a more startling result children fed coco pops excelled in maths exams.

Editing Sentences

It has been shown that kryptonite can significantly affect the muscles of supermen (Goh et al., 2008).

Where is the information in this sentence? Underline it. Retain only the words that have information. Add facts, develop the nuances, but do not use dead words.

 

Kryptonite can significantly affect the muscles of supermen (Goh et al., 2008) yet studies of superwomen showed an increase in  muscle strength following exposure to kryptonite.

 

Look at the words again? What does can significantly affect mean? What concrete picture does it produce? Does it mean benefit/ increase/ damage????

 

Edit:

Kryptonite causes muscle deterioration in supermen (Goh et al., 2008) yet studies of superwomen showed an increase in muscle strength following exposure to kryptonite (Catwoman, 2010).

 Do we need  studies of??

 

Kryptonite causes muscle deterioration in supermen (Goh et al., 2008) yet superwomen  exposed to kryptonite  reported an increase in muscle strength (Catwoman, 2010).

 

Omit all dead sentence openings: It has been shown that/ It has been found that/It is believed that/ It has been argued thatThere is/There are/ The use of

 

X: There are numerous studies of reef fish but few have investigated the lesser spotted blue fin. [Try SVO]

There are numerous studies of reef fish but few have investigated the lesser spotted blue fin

            Better: Few studies have investigated the lesser-spotted blue fin.

[now space to add info. why so few studies? What is it about the fish that is obscure? Why do  we need studies? How important is it to the reef? To the economy?

Editing Sentences (2)

X: The use of measurements of radio carbon dating to assess the chronology of artefacts  discovered in digs has revolutionised the study of archaeology. [underline the real info]

 

X: The use of measurements of radio carbon dating to assess the  chronology of artefacts  discovered in digs has revolutionised the study of archaeology.

 

[Rewrite; begin with the essential matter or SVO; use strong verbs and specific words – note the word accurate was not in the original sentence; the reader had to assume that  archaeology was revolutionised because of the accuracy of the  dating]

 

            Better: Archaeology has been revolutionised since radiocarbon analysis has allowed accurate dating of artefacts.

 

Don’t Double Subjects in Sentences

 

a) From Figure, 4.6, it can be seen that the convection flow increases.

[it is a pronoun standing for Figure 4.6. It is completely redundant here. Try;

 

Figure 4.6 illustrates  how the convection flow increases. (SVO)

Better: The convection flow increases (Figure 4.2).

 

b) For figure 24 (a) it shows the asymmetric flow for Gr number equal to 32000.

            The asymmetric flow for Gr number equal to 32000 (Figure 24 a).

 

c) By building an overpass, it will increase the number of pedestrians to the city.

            An overpass will increase the number of pedestrians to the city.

 

SVO Sentence Structure

 

To ensure the accuracy of the numerical results a grid independence study was performed.

The accuracy of the numerical results was checked against a grid independence study.

 

 

DISTORTED PASSIVE

Active and passive are voices; they refer to different word orders. Passive is not past tense.

Active voice = SVO

Passive voice = OVS (very loosely)

 

The postgraduate wrote the thesis. (active, past tense)

The thesis was written  by the postgraduate. (passive past tense)

 

The postgraduate writes the thesis. (active, present tense)

The thesis is written  by the postgraduate. (passive present tense)

 

The postgraduate will write the thesis. (active, future tense)

The thesis will be written by the postgraduate. (passive future tense)

 

Generally, active voice is clearer and easier to understand. Academic writing, and all elegant writing, employs a mixture of both active and passive voices. Scientific writing generally tends to use passive voice because the subject of the action (“the doer”) is not normally  important.

 

Eg. The scientist filled the flask with  distilled water. (active)

The flask was filled with distilled water. (passive)

 

Passive voice is acceptable in scientific and academic writing, but what is unacceptable and difficult to read is the distorted passive. The distorted passive occurs when the verb is taken and hidden in a sort of noun.

 

1. Acid-etching removed the rust.                                              Active voice - acceptable   

2. The rust was removed by acid etching.                                  Passive voice- acceptable

3. Removal of the rust was...(?verb?)...by acid-etching. Distorted passive -pompous

 

The problem with sentence 3 is that the real verb which shows the action (removing) is lost in a weak noun, and so another verb must be supplied in the sentence. The various suggestions for filling in this gap are invariably the same tired, non-verbs: facilitated, achieved, accomplished, carried out, performed, undertaken, effected, done. None of these actually tell the reader what precisely was done. Only the precise verb, to remove, tells the reader what happened. The rust was removed is clear and precise: Removal was carried out sounds pompous.

 

 

Rewriting Distorted Passive:

•           Check if you have written one of the non-verbs; achieved, performed etc.

•           Find the hidden verb earlier in the sentence (in the sentence above it was remove           from the noun removal).

•           Use this hidden verb as a direct verb in the sentence.

 

Turn the following distorted passive into clear passive voice or active voice.

 

1. Measurement of the resistance was carried out by the ohmmeter.

2. Daily measurement of the leaf area was undertaken.

3. Dropping of the glass slipper was carried out by Cinderella.

4. Containment of the adult squidgens was achieved  by the use of a net trap.

5. Destruction of the seaside area was effected by the strong gales.

 

See  how the sentence is improved by SVO flow

X: To ensure the accuracy of the numerical results a grid independence study was performed.

√: The accuracy of the numerical results was checked against a grid independence study

 

Avoid floating participles (Fparts)

Aim   This descriptive survey investigated the pre-diagnostic decision-making process of Canadian males, concerning their values and influencing socio-demographic variables relating to treatment choices for early prostrate cancer.

 

 

A participle has an —ing ending. E.g swimming, running, dreaming, concerning, relating.

Participles function as parts of verbs. I am swimming; he is dreaming, but they must be attached to other verbs (here is and am).

Participles on their own can also be gerunds (i.e. they act as nouns). Reading is my favourite activity.

However, participles are often used incorrectly in the middle of sentences. They pretend to be verbs, but have no clear action, and they have no clear subject. In this case,  they are floating participles, because they do not clearly connect to any part of the rest of the sentence.

Good writing is unambiguous and subjects and verbs should be clearly stated.

 

 

X: Artificial fertilisers and pesticides are used extensively, resulting in heavy nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) loading and POP pollution.

[the reader asks: “what results in heavy nutrient loading?” But there is no answer to this, so no  clear subject in the sentence. To correct, use full verbs.

 

√: Artificial fertilisers and pesticides are used extensively and result in (cause?) heavy nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) loading and POP pollution.

 

√: The application of artificial fertilisers and pesticides results in heavy nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) loading and POP pollution.

 

(Note: try to avoid the overuse of “use”]

 

X: Chlorine is required by certain growth hormones, making it important for plants to increase in size. [what makes “it important”, what is “it”? Note redundant pronoun it, and increase in size; Try SVO]

√: Chlorine is essential to plant growth hormones

 

Correct the following sentences:

 

a) Since the completion of this dam and many minor ones, the sediment discharge has been reduced to 3×108 t a-1 or less since the 1990s, implying that average suspended sediment concentration has been reduced (Figure 4.4).

 

 

b) At the river mouth, wave and tidal energy propagate into the catchment areas, causing salt, nutrient, pollutant, and sediment exchange between the catchment and the open sea.

 

At the river mouth, the propagation of wave and tidal energy into the catchment areas causes salt, nutrient, pollutant, and sediment exchange between the catchment and the open sea.

 

Avoid concerning, relating to, regarding, being, implying, meaning, particularly in the middle of a sentence following a comma.

 

X: The establishment of sound educational principles took many years, meaning that the college did not produce a graduate for twenty years.

 

√: The establishment of sound educational principles took many years,  and so the college did not produce a graduate for twenty years.

 

X: The issue regarding the new policy is that the recommendations are unenforceable.

√:  The recommendations of the new policy are unenforceable.

 

X: The problem concerning the breakdown of gases has received little attention in the literature.

[But what is the problem with the breakdown?  The mechanism of the break down? The dispersal of gases after breakdown? The inablility of the gases to breakdown? The possibilities are endless. Good writing should be unambiguous]

 

X: The problem in relation to the shortage of applicants is that there is a danger of hiring unsuitable people.

√: The shortage of applicants could lead to the employment of unsuitable people.

Or The problem of the shortage of applicants is….

In relation to can nearly always be  replaced by  “of”.  

 

 

Avoid floating pronouns (FPs)

This and it are pronouns. However, be careful that they refer to specific antecedents. Sometimes these pronouns are loosely used to indicate vaguely “everything or something that went before”. In particular, do not begin sentences with It or This alone. These words are normally floating pronouns which have no specific or concrete reference. If you see It or This, then rewrite to provide the specific word required.

 

John used to ride carelessly and finally smashed his bike into a tree. This made his father angry.

 

It is not clear whether his father was angry because of the careless riding or the accident. This is singular and should refer back to one specific antecedent.  This is, here, ambiguous.

 

Rewrite: The accident made his father angry.

 

Pam always wanted to be the top salesperson in her company. She was happy when she got it.

 

 There is no antecedent for it. Rewrite:

 

She was happy when she achieved her goal.

Or: She was happy when she attained this position. (Replace get with better verb)

 

Visiting dignitaries watched yesterday as ground was broken for the new high-energy physics laboratory. This is the first visible evidence of the university’s plans for modernization and expansion.

 

This has no antecedent. Try seeking the real subject of the verb is. What is the first visible evidence? There is no single word/noun in the previous sentence to which this refers. However, the writer probably wanted to write this ceremony.

 

Try: Visiting dignitaries watched yesterday as ground was broken for the new high-energy physics laboratory. The ceremony is the first visible evidence of the university’s plans for modernization and expansion.

 

Note: Do not replace “this” with the equally meaningless “this means”.

 

Poorly constructed sentences force the reader to stop and try to figure out what the writer really meant. This means that the reader loses the thread of the writer’s arguments.

Note the floating pronouns in the following:

 

a) The first analysis was to assess if the occurrence of a storm affected the number of fish spawning in both the storm and wet seasons. This was tested using a chi-squared test (Zar, 1984).

What does this stand for? Something unsaid in the preceding? This hypothesis?

 

b) The agitation of eggs by the male may also assist in preventing sediment build-up. This would give significant survival advantages in the natural environment where flash floods with huge sediment loads occur frequently during the storm season.

 

c) However, many would argue that the evolving form of the medical practitioner is developing into an independent service provision orientation in the competitive workplace of an experience economy (Stanhope 1983;  Smith 1999, 1993;  Wesson 1992;  Bertha 1993).  This is different from the ‘role’ representation where doctors were perceived as fulfilling the ‘function’ of the community guru.  This new perspective on doctors has been used extensively in this dissertation.

 

d) If the porphyroblasts are affected by subsequent deformation events it is highly probable that the amount of rotation experienced by individual porphyroblasts will vary because of the heterogeneity of strain plus interference effects (Beirmeier & Stuwe, 2003). This would lead to a girdle like distribution after a single overprinting event and subsequent events would lead to a random distribution (Ham & Bell, 2004).

 

Try to rewrite these sentences to avoid floating pronouns

If you don’t take advantage of the upgraded programs on the new model, it reduces the  cost by 40%.

 

Poorly constructed sentences force the reader to stop and try to figure out what the writer really meant. This means that the reader loses the thread of the writer’s arguments.

 

The rise in the dollar has been marked by reduced exports in the cattle industry. This has worried some economists.

 

Poorly constructed sentences force the reader to stop and try to figure out what the writer really meant. This means that the reader loses the thread of the writer’s arguments.

 

Avoid Starting Sentences with Prepositions

 SVO sentences should not  double up on the subject. The pronouns become redundant in the following sentences.

 

X:  By building the overhead pass, it will ease congestion in the city.

√:  Building the overhead pass will ease congestion in the city.

 

X:  With respect to the continuing idealist philosophy, it can be seen to be  influential on emerging Nihilism of the 1890s.

√:  Idealist philosophy influenced the emerging Nihilism of the 1890s.

 

Omitting prepositions not only makes the sentence more concise, but prevents doubling the subject.

 

X:  With a paved walkway across Denham St, this will have a positive effect on the CBD development.

√: A paved walkway across Denham St will have a positive effect on the CBD. (SVO)

 

Better: A paved walkway across Denham St will increase the numbers of shoppers to the CBD. (Be precise: let the reader know what sort of effect)

 

With is a joining word; it cannot substitute for other, more precise words such as since, because, after or and.

 

X: With no children, he was succeeded to the throne by his brother.

√: Because he had no children, he was succeeded by his brother.

 

X: With a woman boss, there’s a belief she will be better, more caring and sharing.

√: A woman boss is expected to be better.

 

 

Don’t use with when you mean and or because.

 

X: The child was transported by helicopter to Cairns, with the other children going by ambulance to Mackay.

√: The child was transported by helicopter to Cairns, and the other children went by ambulance to Mackay

 

X: With his teeth falling out, he went to the dentist.

√: Because his teeth were falling out, he went to the dentist.

 

Avoid overuse of Use

X: Capture of wigeons is achieved by using nets and wire hoops.

√: Wigeons are caught in nets and wire hoops.

 

X: Wood and plastic are also used by some experimenters as a means to control excess radiation.

√: Excess radiation  has been contained by wood and plastic.

 

X: The widespread usage of marshmallows as filling for seawater retaining walls has not been particularly successful.

√: Marshmallows have not been found effective as fillers for seawater retaining walls.

 

 

Modifiers

 

To modify means to describe something else. A modifier is anything which develops the meaning of another element in a sentence. Adjectives and adverbs are modifiers.

           

            The old woman walked slowly to the bus stop.

 

Old modifies woman, and slowly modifies the verb, walked.

A whole clause can be a modifier:

 

She wore a beautiful  dress of red silk as she lounged in the seaside apartment that she rented from her former husband.

            of red silk- modifies dress

            that she rented from her former husband- modifies apartment.

 

Modifiers are useful, but they can be  placed incorrectly. If they are not related to a specific word, they are said to dangle (a dangling modifier).

            Jumping into bed, the sheets were cold.

 

The sentence literally says that the sheets were jumping into bed. The phrase, jumping into bed, must modify a noun. The only noun in the sentence is sheets, but this does not make sense. Thus, a new word needs to be inserted into the sentence.

            Jumping into bed, John found that the sheets were cold.

 

 

 

RULE:  Be careful to keep your modifier close to the element that it is modifying.

 

Modifiers like rarely and only must be next to the word they modify, or the whole meaning of the sentence is changed.

 

Only George bought lamingtons at the store yesterday. (He was the only person.)

George only bought lamingtons at the store yesterday. (He did not sell any himself.)

George bought only lamingtons at the store yesterday. (He did not buy any other groceries.)

George bought lamingtons at the only store yesterday. (There is only one store.)

George bought lamingtons at the store only yesterday. (The lamingtons are still fresh.)

George bought lamingtons at the store yesterday only. (He did not shop on any other day.)

 

Word Stacks

 

Too many modifiers, strung together, without clear relationships to specific words, confuses the reader. Look at this noun stack: a qualified French history teacher. This stack has three possible meanings:                         

                        • a qualified teacher of the history of France;

                        • a qualified history teacher from France;

                        • a qualified teacher of the history of the French language.

 

How many meanings can you find in the noun stack: emergency pilot orientation program?         

In such sentences, it is better to use a few more words and make the meaning perfectly clear.
 

 

EXERCISES

 

Correct the ‘dangling’ and ‘misplaced’ modifiers in these sentences:

 

1.         Running across the stage, the chair tripped her up.

 

2.         Her job involves fault-analysis systems troubleshooting handbook preparation.

 

3.         Violent and unwarranted, the Minister has criticised the demonstration staged yesterday by unionists.

 

4.         Before leaving for Samoa, a new visa will have to go into my passport.

 

5.         Waving frantically, the bus went right past me.

 

6.         Arriving one day early, the city was already crowded with people.

 

7.         Speeding down the hill, several slalom poles were knocked  down by the skier.

 

8.         In the quiet of the night I could hear the dogs in the kennels that were barking.

 

9.         A pessimist only thinks of the dark side of life.    

 

10.       Visitors can only enter some countries if they have the proper visas.

 

11.       Unless completely rewired, no engineers should handle the Widget circuit box.

 

12.       The book discusses difficult child psychology problems.

 

 

 

Punctuation Practice

1.         The company did not operate for long but in those few months its accomplishments became legendary.

2.         Quieting the crowd with a wave of his hand the senator began his address.

3.         Shifting uneasily as one unsettling statement followed another they waited to hear something optimistic.

4.         After the bleak description of international problems the senator switched to an analysis of the state’s economy.

5.         I was angry with her she was angry with me.

6.         Unless we hear from you we will begin at the official time.

7.         She has the qualifications consequently she must be considered to be a candidate for the job.

8.         The machine is only producing 305 units an hour therefore we know something must be wrong.

9.         The riders hired by the pony express company were brave stalwart and young.

10.       Road maps provide motorists with useful facts including locations of towns and cities the routes from place to place and the mileage between them.

11.       This system has even greater capacity it can hold 4.2 gigabytes of data.

12.       Production levels will depend upon three factors good weather low equipment maintenance and harmonious industrial relations.

13.       She performed unlike the others extremely well in the test.

14.       His research was concerned with understanding the similarities between tsunamis large waves caused by underwater earthquakes and maelstroms very large whirlpools.

15.       Ragged right justification is discussed elsewhere in this book see pp. 35-6.

16.       Further research this time funded by SAG snipers against gun control produced findings that were quite different.

17.       The focus of their deliberations whether such a large budget item should be approved of or not was being lost.

18.       The final outcome was disaster.

19.       She was the author of a little known novel. / The novel is little known around here.

20.       He read the ten page document. / The document was ten pages long.

 

Avoid –ing Words

1. Regarding the electron microscope, it must be run at X biomoles per second.

2. Contributing to the development of the monitoring program is one of the primary aims of the research project.


Use single verbs

1. Recently, Bloggs made the observation that kangaroos can hop

2. The studies are  in agreement about the fact that kangaroos can hop.

3. McManners showed in an experiment that kryptonite  is dangerous to supermen.

4. The chapter has the aim to outline the factors  involved in the Ziems’ process.

5. Territory size was found to vary with population density

6. These observations would seem to suggest that purple pygmy-eating troglodytes are ubiquitous in Townsville.

 

7. The data provided supporting evidence for the results of Jones et al.

           

Avoid There is/there are openings

There is no  doubt that drugs are a main factor in the rising crime rate.

Today, there are many misfortunes that result in a one-parent family.