Thursday, August 19, 2010


It is our pleasure to welcome Arlene Miller to our blog. She'll make you take a closer look at your grammar for sure!

By Arlene Miller
Although I was excited and flattered when I was asked to be a guest blogger, I didn’t know what to write about. I just wrote a grammar book…and grammar, well, it can be a tough thing to write about! I figured I could either inform or entertain, or, ideally, I could do both. So I will. I will leave the most common mistakes people make and the parts of speech and the punctuation rules for another time.
Today, I will talk about: (drum roll, please) – putting words where they belong, so you don’t make anyone laugh….unless you want them to, of course!

In the English language, words are assumed to belong with the words they are written next to. When words are put in the wrong place, the writing may be difficult to understand, or it might even be unintentionally ridiculous. This grammatical error is sometimes known as the “dangling participle” or just the “misplaced modifier.” Let’s look at some examples.

Here is one I like to show to my students:

“While still in diapers, my mother remarried.”

Well, you might just skip by it, whether you have written it or are reading it….and assume it means what it should….but it doesn’t. The way it is written says that my mother was still in diapers when she remarried. Probably not what the writer meant?? Since “my mother” comes right after the participial phrase “while still in diapers,” it is assumed that they go together. There are usually many ways to fix a sentence. Here is the most logical fix:

“While I was still in diapers, my mother remarried.”

Here is another one:

"The girl walked her dog wearing a bikini.”

Once again, you might go right by this one and not notice that anything is amiss. However, since the phrase (participial again) “wearing a bikini” comes right after dog, it really means that the dog is wearing a bikini. Now, even my Chihuahua didn’t wear a bikini! Here’s a possible fix (there are many):

“Wearing a bikini, the girl walked her dog.”

Here is one that is hard to pick out, but it may actually make the meaning of the sentence confusing:

“The audience members congratulated him on his speech at the end of the meeting and promised their support.”

Have you found the problem? You really cannot tell what it was that happened at the end of the meeting. In all likelihood, the audience members congratulated him at the end of the meeting. However, the sentence says that his speech was at the end of the meeting.

Here is one possible fix:

“At the end of the meeting, the audience members congratulated him and pledged their support.”

One of the most commonly misplaced words is the word only. It seems as if it is put in the incorrect place most of the time, and while you can usually still understand the sentence correctly, look at how important its placement is. Read these five sentences. They are the same except for the placement of the word only.

1. Only she hit her husband in the eye.

2. She only hit her husband in the eye.

3. She hit her only husband in the eye.

4. She hit her husband only in the eye.

5. She hit her husband in his only eye.

Each sentence has a different meaning, depending on which word only is placed near. Here are the different meanings:

1. No one else hit her husband – just she did.

2. She hit him in the eye; she didn’t shoot him in the eye or anything.

3. She has no other husbands.

4. She didn’t hit him anywhere else, just his eye.

5. He has one eye.

Well, I think my space is about up….but here are a few things that made me chuckle this past week or two: I was looking up a certain school on the Internet, a very good private school. On the page about Language Arts, they claimed they taught “grammer” – with an er. I also saw on the internet that a girl wanted to forget about her “sorted” past! I hope the sordid parts were sorted out! And what about those important tenants that you live your life by -- aren’t they the people living in the house you own?

I will close with something true and serious. This is no laughing matter. The word that means “fear of long words” is (are you ready?)


Arlene Miller was a writer and editor for many years (newspapers, books, technical manuals) before becoming an English teacher several years ago. She has a degree in Journalism, a graduate degree (it look seven years!) in Humanities, and a teaching credential. Originally from Boston (Bahston), she has two young adult children, no Boston accent, and lives just a bit north of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. In her former life (until about 8 years ago), she was also a tap dancer.

Arlene's website is 
Her grammar book may be purchased from
A recent radio interview with Arlene Miller:


Anonymous said...

Hi Arlene:
Glad to see your blog. How would you fix this sentence.
Big juicy hamburgers with all the trimmings that satisfied all his needs generally were his choice.

Ruby Johnson said...

I belong to a critique group and we see a lot of misplaced modifiers, "-ly" words,and overused words such as "that". How would you repair this sentence?[ When she came down the same stairs that her great grandmother had, that glistened from the newly polished bannister, she knew that she owned a heritage not just a house that was, historically, southern architecture.]

Arlene Miller said...

Argh! "He generally chose big, juicy hamburgers with all the trimmings to satisfy all his needs." However, "to satisfy all his needs" is really unclear. A hamburger isn't going to satisfy all his needs! What kind of needs!

Arlene Miller said...

She knew that she owned a heritage house, and not just a house with historically Southern architecture, when she descended the same stairs that her great-grandmother had--stairs that glistened from the newly polished bannister.

That's the best I can do right now!

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