Thursday, July 8, 2010

Don't Dangle Your Modified Sentences With Prepositions At The End Of Them!

Sentences Ending With Prepositions

A traditional rule of grammar is that one should never end a sentence with a preposition. Facetiously stated, the rule is, "A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with." Although it is generally advisable to structure sentences so that they do not end in prepositions, as this makes for more elegant writing, many dispute that ending a sentence with a preposition is incorrect, especially when there is no convenient way to reword the sentence.

Sometimes the "correct" wording is humorously awkward, as in, "Mr. Hunter cursed his memory of the milkman, away with which his wife ran."

Winston Churchill once put a preposition at the end of a sentence and was called to task for it. As the story goes, Churchill replied, "That's the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."

Another interesting sentence that plays with sentence-end prepositions is, "Aw, Mom, what'd you bring that book I don't like to be read to out of up for?" If the book in question was about Australia, the number of prepositions at the end can be increased from five to eight: "Aw, Mom, what'd you bring that book I don't like to be read to out of about Down Under up for?" "Down Under" is used in this sentence as a single noun rather than as two prepositions, but we needn't let a technicality like that ruin our fun.

Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Descriptive phrases, such as gerund phrases or prepositional phrases, modify the nearest noun. Misplacing them by putting them nearer another noun can cause some humorous unintended confusion. Sometimes the appropriate noun isn't even in the sentence at all, in which case the modifier is said to dangle. There are countless examples of misplaced and dangling modifiers, given in the form of jokes, that are in circulation. Here are some examples of interesting ones:

* "Lost: A watch by a lady with a cracked face."
* "Lost: A shirt by a boy with green and blue stripes."
* "While driving around town, a tree fell and hit my car."
* "Running quickly in the winter air, my nose got cold."

Obviously there are countless amusing variations. This particular point of grammar is easy to commit in ignorance, so speakers and writers should be vigilant about avoiding misplaced and dangling modifiers. The following are some more examples, these from actual college essays:

* "At the beginning of the novel, Tom Joad comes across a turtle on his way home from spending four years in prison."
* "Only people with cars that live in dorms should be allowed to park in those lots."
* "Where one parent would be quiet, polite and conservative the other parent would drive up on a black Trans Am full of arrogance and conceit."
* "Gertrude and Claudius have broken a couple of values which anger Hamlet."

The colloquial speech of the Pennsylvania Dutch is inclined toward this particular error. Two prototypical examples: "Throw Papa down the stairs his hat," and "Throw the horse over the fence some hay." For an incomprehensibly convoluted example, here's a real question, once asked of my grandmother: "Let's walk North Hampton street up side by each."

1 comment:

  1. "Throw Mama from the train a kiss, a kiss,
    Wave Mama from the train a good-bye."