Watch out for misplaced modifiers.
A modifier is a word or phrase that describes something. A modifier at the beginning of a sentence is considered “misplaced” when it doesn’t match up with what follows, which can cause confusion for your reader. For example, I recently received an email from an organization I support financially. Here’s how it began, “Dear Dean: As a faithful supporter of our organization, we are requesting your participation in a special research project.” Continue reading “Grammar Bite: Misplaced Modifiers”
Constance Hale provides one of the most thorough treatments of verbs I’ve read.* The book is aimed at writers, both novice and experienced, and unless you hold a PhD in English composition, you will learn something useful to make your writing better. Do you know all about verb tense, mood, and voice? How well do you understand participles, gerunds, irregular verbs, and phrasal verbs? Do you know why these things matter—and they do matter—and how mastering them will help your writing shine brighter? Hale’s book provides the answers.
The title is a bit awkward (try saying it three times fast!)—I think “Let Verbs Power Your Writing” by itself would have been just fine—but “vex,” “hex,” “smash,” and “smooch” provide the framework around which Hale organizes each chapter, and the scheme works pretty well. At times she ventures into murky waters where even she may be out of her depth. For example, I’m still scratching my head at how “tight-fisted” is a past participle (instead of an adjective), as she asserts on page 224. But for the most part, she’s spot on. She includes many examples from real life and literature to illuminate the concepts, along with plenty of endnotes and an extensive bibliography to warm the hearts of readers who care to dig deeper.
I highly recommend this book to writers, wannabe writers, copyeditors, and students (high school and college), and I know that I’ll regularly pull it off my bookshelf to consult for my own writing. Δ
*Constance Hale, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).
© 2018 by Dean Christensen (The Dean’s English)
Do you make any of these common punctuation errors?
The purpose of punctuation isn’t to trouble us with pointless, hard-to-remember rules but to increase the clarity of our writing.
With this in mind I invite you to test your grasp of punctuation basics by taking a short, ten-item quiz. Keep in mind, there is one thing wrong with each numbered item. Find it and make a mental correction (paper and pencil are not required). This will be simple for some and more challenging for others. In all cases, reviewing the explanations below ought to reinforce your punctuation skills. Have fun. (And feel free to like, share, or make a comment.) Continue reading “Fun with Punctuation: A Short Quiz”
Better lists make better personal and professional documents and website content.
Often the best way to convey lots of information with maximum clarity in minimum space is through vertical lists. Vertical lists work well for brochures, flyers, and reports; website content; PowerPoint presentations; handouts for your class; and resumes and cover letters. Done well, vertical lists will help your readers quickly and easily comprehend the important information you want them to know.
But “done well” is easier said than done, and constructing vertical lists that are clear, concise, and consistent can be tricky. So here are some tips for avoiding common list-making errors and for creating bang-up vertical lists that will add zip and polish to your next project. Continue reading “Making a List and Checking It Twice”
Prospective customers, clients, and patrons judge your business or organization by the impression you make in print and web-based materials. It may not be a conscious thing, but they do. Whether you’re part of an information-heavy business with lots of written text or you make your living by the sweat of your brow—people with a good grasp of English will be more impressed with the public image you present if your text is carefully polished, easy to read, and error free. This is true for the yard care specialist or auto shop owner who creates simple advertising flyers, and it is true for the proprietor or professional who produces multiple pages of text, whether for a website or in hard copy.
If you are trying to build your client base or nurture existing clients, you have something important to say. A good copyeditor can help you say it more effectively. So what does a copyeditor do? In short, he or she takes text (i.e., copy) that someone else has written and ensures that it is clear, coherent, consistent, and correct, all for the purpose of effective communication. But not everyone is convinced they need this service. Continue reading “If You Write for Your Business or Organization, Consider This”
A quick-and-easy way to tighten our writing and make it flow more smoothly is to cut out the “flab.” Adjectives and adverbs* tend to bloat our writing, weighing it down with unneeded verbiage. Using fewer of them will almost always streamline writing and make it more interesting to read.
One flab word that often adds little to descriptive writing is the adverb very. We use very as an intensifier to give more strength to a verb or adjective. For example, “We got up very early this morning to see the sunrise. It was very beautiful.” Now read the same sentences without the verys: “We got up early this morning to see the sunrise. It was beautiful.” Has anything been lost? Not that I can tell.
My point is not that we should never use very to add strength to our writing, but to be aware of the verys and use fewer of them. Will “the woman ran very fast” tell us more than “the woman ran fast”? Very is a vague, subjective word that gives the reader almost no information. Instead of telling, add strength by showing the reader how fast she ran: “The woman sprinted down the field like a cheetah.”
And don’t forget this handy piece of advice attributed to Mark Twain:
*As you will recall, in simplest terms, adjectives describe or limit nouns and pronouns, and adverbs modify or describe verbs and adjectives.
© 2016 by Dean Christensen.