Dangling modifiers and how to fix them

A modifier describes or qualifies another part of a sentence. A dangling modifier occurs when the intended subject of the modifier is missing from the sentence, and instead another subject appears in its place.

Dangling modifiers often take the form of an introductory phrase that is connected to the wrong thing.

Dangling Corrected
  • Fumbling in her purse, the keys could not be found.
  • Fumbling in her purse, she could not find the keys.
  • As she fumbled in her purse, the keys could not be found.

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Misplaced modifiers and how to fix them

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes another part of a sentence. A misplaced modifier is improperly positioned in relation to the word, phrase or clause it is supposed to describe.

Neil Armstrong made history as the first man to step on the moon in 1969.

In this example, due to the placement of the modifier in 1969, the sentence seems to say that Neil Armstrong was the first man in that particular year to step on the moon.

Instead, the modifier should be placed directly next to the clause it relates to – Neil Armstrong made history:

  • In 1969 Neil Armstrong made history as the first man to step on the moon.
  • Neil Armstrong made history in 1969 as the first man to step on the moon.

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What is discourse analysis?

Discourse analysis is a research method for studying written or spoken language in relation to its social context. It aims to understand how language is used in real life situations.

When you do discourse analysis, you might focus on:

  • The purposes and effects of different types of language
  • Cultural rules and conventions in communication
  • How values, beliefs and assumptions are communicated
  • How language use relates to its social, political and historical context

Discourse analysis is a common qualitative research method in many humanities and social science disciplines, including linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology and cultural studies.

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What is content analysis and how can you use it in your research?

Content analysis is a research method used to identify patterns in recorded communication. To conduct content analysis, you systematically collect data from a set of texts, which can be written, oral, or visual:

  • Books, newspapers and magazines
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Web content and social media posts
  • Photographs and films

Content analysis can be both quantitative (focused on counting and measuring) and qualitative (focused on interpreting and understanding). In both types, you categorize or “code” words, themes, and concepts within the texts and then analyze the results.

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Em dashes and en dashes (— vs –)

There are two types of dash. The en dash is approximately the length of the letter n, and the em dash the length of the letter m.

  • The shorter en dash (–) is used to mark ranges.
  • The longer em dash (—) is used to separate extra information or mark a break in a sentence.

The en dash is sometimes also used in the same way as an em dash; in this case, it takes  a space on either side.

Make sure not to confuse dashes with shorter hyphens (-), which are used to combine words (as in well-behaved or long-running). A hyphen should not be used in place of a dash.

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Semicolons (;)

A semicolon can be used to connect two closely related independent clauses (parts of a sentence that could also stand as separate sentences).

My car broke down this morning; it’s being fixed at the mechanic’s garage now.

Semicolons are also used to separate list items that contain internal punctuation such as commas and dashes.

The film was shot in many stunning locations, including a castle in Heidelberg, Germany; the Great Mosque—also known as the Mezquita—in Cordoba, Spain; and a quaint village in Undredal, Norway.

The semicolon is often described as a punctuation mark that is stronger than a comma and weaker than a full stop, but it is not interchangeable with other punctuation marks.

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Colons (:)

A colon can be used to introduce words, phrases, lists of items, explanations, and elaborations. It can also be used to introduce a quotation.

In general, you can think of colons as saying “what comes next explains what came before.” A colon must be preceded by an independent clause: a fully formed thought that could stand as a sentence on its own.

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Using conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that is used to connect words, phrases, and clauses. There are many conjunctions in the English language, but some common ones include andorbutbecause, for, if, and when.

There are three basic types of conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating, and correlative.

Because the popstar caught a terrible cold, her upcoming performances in Boston and Chicago were indefinitely postponed. The tour organizers provided neither rescheduled dates nor refunds for the tickets, causing much discontent among the fans.

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An introduction to modifiers

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes, defines, or qualifies something else in a sentence.

Modifiers include descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs:

  • She always listened attentively in class.
  • She decided to buy the blue vintage Cadillac.

Modifiers can also be phrases or clauses:

  • Anna smiled when she walked past the bar where she met her husband.
  • Having received a promotion at work, he went out to buy a bottle of champagne.

The most common modifier mistakes are dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers. Both terms refer to modifiers that are connected to the wrong thing in a sentence.

A misplaced modifier is too far away from the thing it’s supposed to modify, while a dangling modifier’s intended subject is missing from the sentence altogether.

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Using parallel structure in writing

In English grammar, parallelism (also called parallel structure or parallel construction) is the repetition of the same grammatical form in two or more parts of a sentence.

Not parallel Parallel
I like to jog, bake, paint, and watching movies. I like to jog, bake, paint, and watch movies.

I like jogging, baking, painting, and watching movies.

Maintaining parallel structure helps you avoid grammatically incorrect sentences and improves your writing style. Although lack of parallelism is not always strictly incorrect, sentences with parallel structure are easier to read and add a sense of balance to your writing.

Parallel construction is most commonly used in sentences containing elements that appear in a series or in a pair. It is also applied to headings and outlines in academic writing.

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