Between December 1-23 I’ll post twelve editing suggestions I hope you can use in the coming year when you’re working on your manuscript. I suppose you could print them off and hide them under your tree, but don’t feel like you have to.
These can occasionally prompt giggles. Even so, you should avoid them.
First off, what’s a modifier? Words or phrases that modify other words or phrases. “Only” is a typical modifier, and one that is easily misplaced. Other modifiers of which you should be careful are: almost, even, hardly, nearly, and often.
Neither one of these sentences is incorrect, but look at how the placement changes the meaning.
- I only speak English.
>I don’t speak anything but English. No French, no Mandarin, no Polish.
- I speak only English.
>The only thing I did with English was speak it. I didn’t write it or read it.
Here is a valid example of a misplaced modifier.
Dressed all in blue, Susan paused to study the crowd of women.
Who was dressed in blue? Susan or the crowd of women?
- Susan paused to study the crowd of women who were all dressed in blue.
- Susan, who had dressed in blue that day, paused to study the crowd of women.
And another example:
Walking home, the birds sang noisily.
Who was singing?
- Walking home, we were aware of the birds singing noisily.
- The birds sang noisily as we walked home.
These can be hard to spot. Read them out loud to be sure!