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Writing tip 12 – was your grandmother a boy?

There is a common mistake in writing that can best be described by this hilarious generic example: “As a boy, my grandmother used to read to me.” Surely, your grandmother was not a boy, but that is how it comes across.

It’s all about the structure of the subordinate clause leading into the sentence and the first word after the comma. In this case grandmother refers back to boy. It’s known as a dangling modifier – being associated with a word other than the one intended.

How about this one? I received it in an email: “As someone who has joined this organisation recently, I, as chairman, would like to invite you to join us as our guest at our annual general meeting being held later this week.”

The invitation appears to be saying that the chairman just joined the organisation and would like to invite me to a meeting for reasons that are not clear. What the chairman is trying to say is that I, being a new member, am invited to the event. Of course, readers would understand that, possibly after a second read, but why make things difficult with a clumsy intro?

Here is a straightforward way: “As chairman of this organisation, I would like to invite you to join us as our guest at our annual general meeting this week.”

Please note I also deleted a few redundant words such as being held and later.

I used to run corporate writing courses for business people in Europe and the United States. I have tested dozens of students on a sentence that starts very much like the awkward invitation referred to here. Only about 20 percent recognised the problem and rewrote the beginning, but they all knew better after I reviewed their writing exercise.

Returning to the grandmother, this probably makes sense: “My grandmother used to read to me when I was a boy.”

I welcome your comments.

Rolf Soderlind

http://www.absolutwriting.com/ absolutwriting

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