Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Maureen Dowd's Misplaced Modifier

This One’s for You, Joe


Published: February 7, 2007

Only kick people when they’re up, not when they’re down.

Ms. Down misplaces the modifier “only.” “Only” is number one in misplaced modifiers. It should go before the word or phrase it modifies. That place in Dowd’s sentence is before “when they’re up.”

Aren’t Americans going to be angry at a Senate that’s bending itself into a procedural pretzel, rather than seriously tackling the future of Iraq?

Redundant commas are the most frequent punctuation error. The comma before “pretzel” is redundant. The “rather” phrase is restrictive because Dowd talks about Iraq, not Iran, Turkey, or Timbucktoo. “Seriously” is one of those redundant adverbs that Strunk & White deplored and that Graham Green refused to use.

“He’s concluded that this administration’s policy can’t succeed in Iraq and he’s handing it off to the next guy.”

Here a comma goes after “Iraq” to fulfill the easiest comma rule: two independent clauses joined by a coordinationg conjunction.


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