Tuesday, August 10, 2010

DON'T MAKE THEM LAUGH - UNLESS YOU ARE TRYING TO!

© 2010 Arlene Miller

Although I was excited and flattered when I was asked to be a guest blogger on Joylene’s blog, I didn’t know what to write about. I just wrote a grammar book…and grammar, well, it can be a tough thing to write about! I figured I could either inform or entertain, or, ideally, I could do both. So I will. I will leave the most common mistakes people make and the parts of speech and the punctuation rules for another time. Today, I will talk about: (drum roll, please) – putting words where they belong, so you don’t make anyone laugh….unless you want them to, of course!

In the English language, words are assumed to belong with the words they are written next to. When words are put in the wrong place, the writing may be difficult to understand, or it might even be unintentionally ridiculous. This grammatical error is sometimes known as the “dangling participle” or just the “misplaced modifier.” Let’s look at some examples.


Here is one I like to show to my students:
“While still in diapers, my mother remarried.”

Well, you might just skip by it, whether you have written it or are reading it….and assume it means what it should….but it doesn’t. The way it is written says that my mother was still in diapers when she remarried. Probably not what the writer meant?? Since “my mother” comes right after the participial phrase “while still in diapers,” it is assumed that they go together. There are usually many ways to fix a sentence. Here is the most logical fix:

“While I was still in diapers, my mother remarried.”

Here is another one:
“The girl walked her dog wearing a bikini.”

Once again, you might go right by this one and not notice that anything is amiss. However, since the phrase (participial again) “wearing a bikini” comes right after dog, it really means that the dog is wearing a bikini. Now, even my Chihuahua didn’t wear a bikini! Here’s a possible fix (there are many):

“Wearing a bikini, the girl walked her dog.”

Here is one that is hard to pick out, but it may actually make the meaning of the sentence confusing:
“The audience members congratulated him on his speech at the end of the meeting and promised their support.”
Have you found the problem? You really cannot tell what it was that happened at the end of the meeting. In all likelihood, the audience members congratulated him at the end of the meeting. However, the sentence says that his speech was at the end of the meeting.

Here is one possible fix:

“At the end of the meeting, the audience members congratulated him and pledged their support.”

One of the most commonly misplaced words is the word only. It seems as if it is put in the incorrect place most of the time, and while you can usually still understand the sentence correctly, look at how important its placement is. Read these five sentences. They are the same except for the placement of the word only.
  1. Only she made a speech at the meeting.
  2. She only made a speech at the meeting.
  3. She made the only speech at the meeting.
  4. She made the speech only at the meeting.
  5. She made the speech at the only meeting.

Each sentence has a different meaning, depending on which word only is placed near. Here are the different meanings:
  1. No one else made a speech at the meeting – only she did.
  2. She made a speech, but she didn’t do anything else at the meeting.
  3. Aha! Means the same as the first sentence. No one else made a speech.
  4. She didn’t make a speech anywhere else – just at the meeting.
  5. There was no other meeting.

Well, I think my space is about up….but here are a few things that made me chuckle this past week or two: I was looking up a certain school on the Internet, a very good private school. On the page about Language Arts, they claimed they taught “grammer” – with an er. I also saw on the internet that a girl wanted to forget about her “sorted” past! I hope the sordid parts were sorted out! And what about those important tenants that you live your life by -- aren’t they the people living in the house you own?

I will close with something true and serious. This is no laughing matter. The word that means “fear of long words” is (are you ready?)
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

 Arlene Miller

Arlene Miller was a writer and editor for many years (newspapers, books, technical manuals) before becoming an English teacher several years ago.  She has a degree in Journalism, a graduate degree (it look seven years!) in Humanities, and a teaching credential. Originally from Boston (Bahston), she has two young adult children, no Boston accent, and lives just a bit north of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. In her former life (until about 8 years ago), she was also a tap dancer.

a recent radio interview with Arlene Miller:


25 comments :

  1. Sounds like a book ever writer will want to have on their bookshelf. Enjoyed the examples. I'm taking notes!

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  2. Thank you, Susanne. I totally agree. I don't know where I'd be if not for grammar experts like Arlene. Glad you enjoyed the post. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping Arlene will come back and visit again.

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  3. Hi Joylene and Arlene,
    Well this is excellent stuff. I've no doubt that any aspiring writer would find this information most informative.
    Of course, I'm one who takes great pleasure in 'grammar anarchy' and that dreaded conjunction 'and' which as you know and I know can and most assuredly can make a sentence turn in to that tiring and tedious event known as the 'run-on' sentence...Yes, I did discover that 'conjunction' means, 'the word in a sentence that joins the rest of a sentence' and not 'an intersection where criminals meet'.
    Seriously, Arlene's book seems like recommended reading for those who wish to sort out their grammar.
    With respect and a garden gnome, yours in surreality, Gary :-)

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  4. Thanks, Gary. I agree. I think Arlene's book is a must. It's on my shortlist becuz I always need help with grammar.

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  5. I agree with you, Joylene. Becuz it all makes sense to me. lol

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  6. Good post! Thanks to both of you for sharing with us. This book sounds great; I may need to get a copy:)
    Blessings,
    Karen

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  7. Thank you for dropping by, Karen. Your continual support means a lot.

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  8. Thank you so much to everyone who commented! Of course, I would love you all to have the book! I was so happy to write the blog post and extremely happy you all read it and liked it! thank you Joylene for inviting me -- and thank you all for appreciating the importance of good communication!
    Arlene Miller

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  9. I did have to chuckle over "sorted" past and those "tenants"! Yet, unfortunately, spelling in America is getting worse, and the bad spelling is accepted as "right". For instance, with the south's popular Krispy Kreme doughnuts, "crispy" and "cream" is truly being spelled this way!

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  10. Thank you for taking the time to write this post, Arlene. I don't think I'm alone when I say, you grammarians are terrific!

    Hi Miss Mae. Glad you enjoyed Arlene's post. Yes, I giggled over that part too. Just recently I wrote "won't open that can of beans" instead of worms. LOL. Embarrassing or what!

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  11. This is great. Grammar is an ongoing problem for me. I can't retain the rules. It's like I'm brain dead or something. Thanks for the post, Arlene.

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  12. You're welcome Hillary....glad you liked it! And Miss Mae -- have a Krispy Kreme for me!

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  13. This is great stuff. Thanks, Arlene and Joylene. I'll be back for more. Arlene, is your book available as an e-book?

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  14. Hillary and Dara, thanks! I'm hoping to coax Arlene into coming back. It's exciting to learn grammar because you just know it'll improve your writing. Thank you, Arlene.

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  15. Thanks, loved your interview. I have yet another problem. Have written a book in first person, as a boy of 11, and used a little local speech, people not used to this sort of thing, relatives mainly and trying to be helpful, are politely querying my grammar... oh dear... :0)

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  16. The book is not yet on Kindle and other readers ( I am working on it), but you can download it as an e-book a couple of ways: it is an IPhone app in the Apple app store and other app stores. Also, it is downloadable as an e book at a site called Teacherspayteachers.com...You can probably find it somewhere under Language Arts or my name.

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  17. Fantastic blog!

    I was particularly blown away by the many ways 'only' could turn a sentence into different meanings.

    Love this!

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  18. Hi Carol. Thanks for commenting. Hope you're doing well.

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  19. Hi Carole. I've had that problem with my uneducated characters too. There are times when poor grammar on purpose works and you just have to politely ignore your critiquers.

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  20. Ms. C. Zampa....thanks for the compliment on the blog post....looked at your blog - Nice!

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  21. Probably everybody says this, but your book sounds great, Arlene, and I will order a copy. I did check out your webpage and I even sneaked a peek at your book. The layout is well organized and looks easy to follow. I hope it does well. Thanks for the info.

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  22. Thank you for your kinds words, Brenda. Please do post a review of Arlene's book after you've had a chance of reading it. Your review would mean a lot.

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  23. Anyone who can make learning grammar humorous has my vote! Arlene's examples were informative while being fun to read. Thanks for a great post.

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  24. You and I are on the same page, Carol. Thanks for commenting.

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  25. Thank you, Brenda and Carol, for the kind words! Much appreciated!

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