authors, Editing, self publishing

Ten mistakes a reader never misses: Misplaced modifiers (Part 10)

This is the last of the series I have been posting on the mistakes readers never miss when reading a book. My intent with this series was to point out how easy it can be to miss simple editing issues, which can greatly effect the way readers perceive the quality of the book. The last mistake I think readers never miss is Misplaced modifiers.

These are probably the trickiest error of them all. One simple example of a misplaced (or dangling) modifier was used is in this sentence describing a person shopping for a book

Walking down the aisles, many books draw her interest.

In this sentence the books, not Shelley, are walking down the aisle all because of the misplaced modifiers. You might wonder if a reader would notice that. In this circumstance some wouldn’t but others would. Generally the thing that makes misplaced modifiers quite problematic is their tendency to make sentences confusing.

What exactly is being communicated in the following sentence?

We could understand the book read by the man easily.

What was easy? Was it easy for us to understand or was it easy for him to read the book? This would be confusing to any reader. An editor might reword this in one of two ways, depending on the author’s meaning:

“We could easily understand the book read by the man” or

“We could understand the book read easily by the man.”

The following two sentences have very different meanings.

He has read nearly every book on the shelf.

He has nearly read every book on the shelf.

The first sentence states he has read almost every book, so he has read most of them cover to cover, but there are a few left that he hasn’t read. The second sentence states that he hasn’t read any book on the shelf. He has come close to reading them, but has never actually done so. He has nearly read them. Confused yet? Hopefully the explanation of this example makes sense, but keep in mind this is one of the simplest examples of a misplaced modifier.

Now the point to all this is not to frustrate you with how the nuances of the English language can make it difficult to create a flawless manuscript. My intent is to use examples like this to encourage you to have a good editor review your manuscript before you publish you book. It is one of the best investments you can make as an author.

….the thing that makes misplaced modifiers quite problematic is their tendency to make sentences confusing.

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4 thoughts on “Ten mistakes a reader never misses: Misplaced modifiers (Part 10)

    • keithogorek says:

      Well, isn’t that embarrassing. Thanks for pointing it out. It sure does illustrate why it is important to have an editor….even for a blog.

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