I had a wake up call last week that I would like to share. And I need to thank Martha Rogers and Lori Vanden Bosch for providing it.
Because I majored in English in university and have written novels, plays, articles, and songs for over thirty years, I thought I had a fairly good feel for sentence structure. What a surprise I received when Martha kindly looked over my most recent manuscript and pointed out a grammatical error I consistently made throughout the book. Lori, my editor, confirmed the error, and I had to do some fast editing to correct it.
The error involved participial phrases (or “ing” sentences as Martha describes them). For example, Tiptoeing down the hallway, she went into the bedroom. In my mind this sentence showed a transition from one place to another. First she tiptoed down the hallway and then she went into the bedroom.
Martha accurately pointed out that the sentence is chronologically impossible. You can’t tiptoe down the hallway and, at the same time, go into the bedroom. A simple fix would be to rewrite the sentence: She tiptoed down the hallway and went into the bedroom.
Lori sent me an article entitled “Participial Phrase Abuse.” I swallowed hard when I realized just how I was abusing participial phrases. The article stated:
“Participial phrases lend themselves to a host of grammatical ills, including dangling participles and chronological impossibilities. The most common problem associated with participial phrases is the dangling participle. Swimming in the ocean, the cool water refreshed him. The sentence, as written, tells us that the water is swimming in the ocean. Let’s fix it. Swimming the ocean, he felt refreshed.
“Chronological impossibilities are also common. Consider the following sentence: Walking down the hallway, he stopped to tie his shoe. Someone cannot walk down the hallway and stop to tie his shoe simultaneously, so this sentence needs revision. A possible fix: Walking down the hallway, he noticed his shoe was untied and stopped to tie it.
“When you come across one of these phrases, ask yourself two key questions: (1) Does the action expressed in the participle link up with the main clause correctly? And (2) Can these two things happen simultaneously?”
Well, that’s the grammar lesson for today. A giant thanks to Martha and Lori. I am a schoolteacher by profession, but in this area I am clearly the student—a student who had to hit the books and brush up on basic sentence structure. What did I learn? I need to be on the watch for those tricky participial phrases continually. I need to use them with care and use them sparingly. And, most of all, I need to review the basics regularly.
Perhaps we all do.