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How to Write Good

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It's so easy to say or write things that are downright weird, simply because of poor wording. Among the most common causes of unclear and sometimes outrageously funny statements are dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, and pronouns with unclear antecedents. As a teacher of language I correct errors to help my students improve their speaking and writing. I hope I don't seem to them to be a grammar Nazi. It's a fine line I have to walk! The goal is clear communication, not stifled communication. Today's iv is a list of examples of poor writing and speaking that I've accumulated, but not from my students. 🙂

Warning: Read this only if you are in a place where you're free to LOL.

Riding along on my bicycle, a dog knocked me over.

Mrs. Shirley Baxter, who went deer hunting with her husband, is very proud that she was able to shoot a fine buck as well as her husband.

Sizzling in the pan, my wife has some okra.

If properly secured, you shouldn't be able to remove the lid.

I saw the man before he died two or three times.

The body was found in an alley by a passer-by with a bullet in his head.

The suspect is about 30 years old, white, 5' 10", with wavy hair weighing about 150 pounds.

Flitting from flower to flower, the football player watched the butterfly.

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.

The robber ran from the policeman still holding the money in his hands.

Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home, too.

Walking down the street, the library came into view.

We have several very old dresses from a grandmother in beautiful condition.

Having finished our breakfast, the car was loaded for our departure.

A department store ad: "Mixing Bowl Set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating."

Another ad: "We will oil your sewing machine and adjust tension in your home for $10.00."

Flying low, the Smoky Mountains are stunning.

Hunting can also be dangerous, as in the case of pygmies hunting elephants armed only with spears.

One evening on the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw announced, "Just like men, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S."

At the age of eight, my family drove to California.

Mrs. Smith gave out cookies to each child wrapped in Saran Wrap.

Overheard: "This summer I almost wore a dress every day."

Newspaper Blurb: "A purple lady's bicycle was missing from Serendipity Lane recently."

Walking home from school yesterday, a tree almost fell on my friend.

After finishing my homework, my dog ate it.

Being flat, Betsy changed the tire.

After being whipped fiercely, the cook boiled the eggs.

Swimming upstream to spawn, John watched the salmon.

Organ donations from the living reached a record high last year, outnumbering donors who are dead for the first time.

When young, amusement parks are especially appealing.

Plunging hundreds of feet below, we saw the Grand Canyon.

Having left home for good, Tom's future looked bleak.

The dog was hungry and made the mistake of nipping a 2-year-old that was trying to force feed it in his ear.

Buzzing in the garden I heard a bee.

We spent most of our time sitting on the back porch watching the cows playing Scrabble and reading.

The family lawyer will read the will tomorrow at the residence of Mr. Hannon, who died June 19 to accommodate his relatives.


If you would like to test your skills at catching dangling participles, you can go to this online tutorial. The left sidebar on that site has links to other similar online tutorials.

I'm hoping the comments to this post will demonstrate the creative writing abilities of many of my readers. Now back to grading the first set of compositions from my MLF101 students....


"Forbid, Lord, that any of those to whom I minister should be so foolish as to take my word as though it were Thine; or so daring as to set aside Thy word as though it were mine." - Jim Elliot

=^..^= =^..^=

Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

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7 Comments on “How to Write Good”

  1. #1 Alfredo
    on Sep 13th, 2010 at 7:53 am

    I’m glad to know that it’s not just those of us who are English teachers who are concerned about good grammar.

    This list was great. I’m definitely bookmarking this page.

    Rob adds: Merci, Alfredo! Glad you enjoyed it and found it useful.

  2. #2 Francois
    on Sep 13th, 2010 at 8:08 am

    A colleague and I were working on a problem with a computer program. My colleague was able to figure out what was wrong. She just sent me a short e-mail saying : “I understand why I think”. I replied, “Good for you!” Now, she knows the importance of a comma in a sentence.

    Rob adds: Sometimes, François, I wish I understood why I think…. 😀

  3. #3 Michael
    on Sep 13th, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Probably the best examples from one of my students was about a famous historical figure who grew up without a father. Unfortunately, the student wrote that as “his father died before he was born.”

    I also get perturbed with my students’ overabundant use of the word “it” with no antecedent to be seen for miles.

    Rob adds: The first part of your comment should have come from a science teacher, Michael! And concerning the second part, it is all too frequent. That’s why it concerns the second part so much….

  4. #4 Jessica
    on Sep 14th, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    I have earned the nickname “Grammar Police” at work and was given a print out of a “Grammar Police” badge, which is on display at my desk. 🙂

    I have to relate an incident from work even though it has to do with spelling and not grammar: I recently read a Civil War era letter in which the author spelled married “marred.” Twice. LOL.

    Rob adds: Jessica, as a married man, I appreciate your catching that mistake, especially since you’re a historian. Throughout history, most of us married men have actually been improved because of marriage, rather than marred by it … although I’m sure you could come up with some notable exceptions…. 🙂

  5. #5 Jessica
    on Sep 14th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    You don’t even need to see the whole sentence to get the full effect of one of my all-time favorites. This was from a student who wrote about the dangers of wearing makeup: “mothers with young boys who wear makeup daily and are in constant contact with their children…”

    Rob adds: I was wondering if you would comment on this one since you taught English the past several years. Did you keep a file of oddities from student papers? If so, you could have probably written this post for me. Good to hear from you.

  6. #6 Ruth
    on Sep 15th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I have to admit I would go through my English book in high school at the beginning of the school year just to look for the misplaced modifiers to enjoy. Here are two that I remember: “The dear old lady gave cookies to the children with chocolate chips in them.” and “Hanging on a hook in the closet, I found my jacket.” Similar to what you have already, but still fun to read.

    Rob adds: Actually there were more than several in my list whose problems were similar. But they’re all still fun because of the mental images they conjure up. Thanks for adding those, Ruth.

  7. #7 bj
    on Sep 17th, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I catch all kinds of grammatical errors in books. I found one spelling error to be quite humorous. The character was describing her family, having “2 sisters and 1 bother.”

    I was giving away kittens and wrote out a sign saying, “free sample kitten food with kitten”. I forgot the “of”, so everyone was reading it as a free sample kitten with a kitten. Oops.

    Rob adds: My past errors are so many that I try *not* to remember them.