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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Criminal Sentence 240: Writing "Differently"

From a book I finished recently:

"I looked at every teenager walking down the road differently."

So the kids were walking differently? Were they members of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks, that famous British comedy skit from the 70s?

This is an example of a misplaced modifier. In this case, the word "differently" is misplaced. It seems to modify "walking," but it truly modifies "looked." The speaker has started looking at teenagers differently.

Fixing it is fairly easy: just move the word "differently" so that it modifies "looked":

"I looked differently at every teenager walking down the road."

Ah...

And please be careful that your adverbs clearly modify what they're supposed to, especially if you have more than one verb or adjective in your sentence.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What if the speaker meant that each teenager was walking in his own unique way? I haven't read that book so you probably know the context better, but wouldn't it also be possible that he was referring to how each teenager was walking? Would the sentence have been incorrect if that was the meaning?

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Yes, if the writer intended to describe the way the teenager was walking, then it would be OK to say "walking differently." But it was clear from the context that this was not what he meant.

momma's heart said...

I've been reading for a few weeks. You are doing a great public service in writing this blog. Thank you.

I go back and read old posts as I have time. I wonder if this is the same anonymous commenter each time? How annoying. I'm sorry you are having to put with someone so argumentative. You graciously respond each time. Such patience.