A Man Walks Into a Bar – Riff #6

A dangling participle walks into a bar.
Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender,
the evening passes pleasantly.

If your eye tends to slide over words when you read, filling in meaning as you go, you might not even see dangling participles.  Explaining what’s wrong with this construction snarls us up in grammar jargon like “subject” and “modify,” usually generating glazed eyes in the explainee. Maybe a visual will work better.

Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender,
the evening passes pleasantly.

In English sentence structure, the orange bit is talking about the green bit. It doesn’t matter that you don’t mean it that way: That’s the way it works.

It *does* matter that it doesn’t make sense.

The good news is that it’s easy to fix. You can introduce a new subject — sorry, green bit — that does make sense with the orange bit.

Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender,
Sam finds that the evening passes pleasantly.

Or you can change the structure of the sentence.

Sam enjoys a cocktail and chats with the bartender:
The evening passes pleasantly.

Does it matter? Yes, because gramatically correct writing is part of a professional presentation. I don’t want to overstate its importance: Correct grammar is a hygiene factor, not a motivating one. You won’t earn marks for getting it right, but you could lose marks for getting it wrong.

 


 

Check out this National Post article, 2020 Oct 20 for a similar example of a misplaced modifier:

As a relatively new virus, Jenne said there’s still a lot of unknowns about how easily COVID-19 spreads.

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