2018-04-01 / Features

That's Write

Let’s modify our speech a bit

Modifiers—whether words or phrases—are delightfully clarifying and colorful additions to the stripped-down thoughts put forth by nouns, pronouns and verbs, provided a writer or speaker inserts them in the proper places. If that doesn’t happen, the results can be very—well, let’s say “interesting.”

Consider:

1. “So wonderfully mellow, yet sparkling, you’ll be delighted with this wine choice for your next social event.”

While you may, indeed, be both a mellow and a sparkling host, you’ll have grammarians “wine-ing” about your sentence construction if you insist on lauding your celebratory beverage choice in this manner. Whet your guests’ appetites for more sipping stuff by recasting the sentence in a way that moves that opening modifier phrase so that it comes down closer to the word it is intended to describe. “You’ll be delighted with this wonderfully mellow, yet sparkling, wine choice for your next social event.”

2. Fresh out of confetti on New Year’s Eve, popcorn was Sabrina’s tossing choice, instead.”

Toss this sentence arrangement and move the word which that participial phrase (the one at the beginning of the sentence that is behaving like an adjective) is meant to modify in much greater proximity. Like this: “Fresh out of confetti on New Year’s Eve, Sabrina made popcorn her tossing choice, instead.” Or you might choose to fiddle with the whole idea a bit more and put forth this information, “Since Sabrina was fresh out of confetti for tossing on New Year’s Eve, she chose popcorn, instead.”

I feel better already. No more brows pulled into a frowny shape. No more gritting of my teeth. No more despairing moan for the future of my native language. Sabrina may toss whichever she wishes and I will smile, smile, smile, since it is now quite clear her popcorn never had any real claim on the confetti.

3. “Known to one and all for his generosity, we couldn’t think of a better person to play Santa than Nick.”

Well, that takes the cake. People are trying to steal Nick’s propensity to share and take the credit themselves. Guess we know who ended up with coal and/or switches in their stockings a few months ago. To be sure credit is received where credit is due, let’s do some more shifting and move this phrase, as well, so that it says, as it certainly should, “We couldn’t think of a better person to play Santa than Nick, known to one and all for his generosity.”

Modifiers don’t mind being moved at all, you see, but they tend to get a little testy when English communicators drag them away from their purpose in literary life and try to make them socialize with words with which they were never meant to be on such friendly terms.

So, stop it!

Instead, resolve to carry on through 2018 with a bit more attention to keeping your words in order. And while you are at it, make them as sweet as possible. After all, you are the one in control of the way you present yourself verbally, and while a kind message is the one best received and most useful for all, it’s especially lovely when it is wrapped in correct and confusion-free grammar.

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