Sunday, January 29, 2012

Little adverb movements make everything precise

In the previous post, I was reading it over and realized I'd (horrors!) misplaced a modifier.
Too late she remembered the reason for that generous gift, and how embarrassed he had been, confessing to his secret fear of windmills last year.

This is a common mistake with "time" adverbs and adjectives like "back then" and "in the past" and "on Monday."  Here, the problem is that with the modifier placed at the end of the sentence, it's not clear whether he became afraid of windmills "last year,"  or if the embarrassed confession was last year. Why make the reader wonder, when all it takes is a bit of movement?

The modifier should be placed right next to whatever element actually happened at that time. In this sentence, the gift and embarrassment and the confession happened "last  year," so the modifier can go close to either of those, whatever sounds best. So:
Too late she remembered the reason for that generous gift, and how embarrassed he had been last year, confessing to his secret fear of windmills.

We need to be sensitive to what our sentences actually say, and open to the minor fixes that make it say what we actually mean. 


Denny S. Bryce said...

I actually think I'm getting the hang of that one - however, I keep finding them as I continue to go through my manuscript - so a big thanks for the reminder. And the sample do and don't:)...helps to visualize - at least for me.

Toni Lynn said...

I tried to find a "contact us" button on your site and have failed.

So I guess I will have to tell you what's on my mind here.

Each day, when I see an email from edittorrent I get excited. There is always something new to learn in this business and I LOVE that I have access to the best mentors a girl could ask for.

THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom with us. Know that you are making a difference in this writers life.

Edittorrent said...

Toni, thank you for your kind words about the blog. And thank you for pointing out that our email address is lost in the weeds. I've added something to the sidebar to make it easier to email us, but we welcome comments, too. (We're on semi-moderated status with comments because we get a lot of "buy essay paper" spam comments and would just as soon weed those out. It's not to discourage legitimate commenters, but to focus the comments on real writing and editing concerns.)


Alicia Rasley said...

Toni, I'll let the smart one (Theresa) deal with a "Contact us" link. Thanks for the thought and the kind words!

Denny, "only" is another one of those wandering adverbs that can go just about anywhere in the sentence, but usually has just one "right" place for the meaning. That one always drives me nuts!