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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Thursday, October 6

More ES3: The Dangling, Old Grammarian

One of the positions for sentence ideas is the front, before the subject. Many writers tend to ignore this possibility and write main ideas first, then add information in a kind of descending staircase, giving the reader the impression that they’re sliding down a hill, or down a banister, a lot like this sentence just concluding. Of the possible introductory units—1-o, 2, 3, 4, 4a, adverb s-v-o, front position appositive, nominative absolute—the 3’s, 4’s, and 4a’s are susceptible to an error in logic called the “dangling modifier.” This expression always reminds me of a man forgetting to zip up after urinating, leaving his member dangling for the world to see. Let me explain. Any 3, 4, or 4a phrase that begins a sentence must always refer to the subject of the main clause. If it doesn’t, then it dangles. “Priced at only $25, I knew the garage-sale Hamilton watch was a bargain I couldn’t resist.” This 4-1-o unit isn’t so much dangling as misplaced, since the word it refers to, “watch,” is in the sentence. All one has to do it tuck it in after “watch” and the reader can go merrily on his way. The illogic is that the reader automatically assumes that “priced” must refer to the subject “I.” Here’s an example of a truly dangling 3-o: “Running across the wet floor, my feet slipped and I fell ingloriously on my butt.” This contains only a slight bit of illogic, since one could assume that feet might be running. But we know that a complete person, not just his feet, were doing the running. Here’s an example of the kind of sentence I got over and over again in student essays, one in which the empty pronoun “it” becomes the subject. “Reviewing the novel The Catcher in the Rye, it’s obvious why some libraries banned the book.” [Who’s doing the reviewing?] Here’s another: “In the story ‘A Good Long Sidewalk,’ it tells about prejudice.” The reader just sort of shakes his head to sort out the ideas. Don’t make him do that. This last example has a dangling 1-0, one which is far less common than a dangling 3 or 4 phrase. And here are two dangling adverbs that have suffered much controversy from strict grammarians over the years: “hopefully” and “thankfully,” suggesting “full of hope” and “full of thanks.” But often the speaker (the one with these feelings) isn’t in the sentence; thus the hopes and thanks are reflecting the mood of the speaker. “Hopefully, you’ll understand what I just said. Thankfully, here's one more example.” “Hopefully, a tsunami like the one that struck Japan will never hit our West Coast. Thankfully, it never has.” Then there are a number of other adverbs that are close to these two, grammatically called disjuncts, but which are now considered acceptable: oddly, luckily, fortunately, apparently, presumably, happily, sadly, mercifully. Isn’t this fun? Remember, zip it up. Don’t let your member dangle.

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