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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Criminal Sentence 301: Can tension stand?

From a book I'm reading:

"Standing before him, the colander clenched tightly before her, the tension in her face stabbed at him."

As I read this sentence, I got worried when I reached "the colander." I thought this was going to be a misplaced modifier, because "the colander" is not "standing before him." Then I realized I hadn't yet gotten to the subject of the sentence. So I relaxed. But then the stress went way up when I got to "the tension." The sentence did in fact contain a misplaced modifier. Tension cannot stand as far as I know; the "her" of the sentence is standing before him and is tense. Let's rewrite:

"As she stood before him, the colander clenched tightly before her, the tension in her face stabbed at him."

4 comments:

Hank said...

It's also wordy and I think it buries the lede.

How about: "[t]he tension in her face stabbed at him as she stood before him, colander clenched tightly."

The important thing here is the tension, which should be mentioned first. As it stands, it buries the lede behind two misreadable phrases.

I also don't think tension can stab, but whatever.

Westley said...

Good point. Wordiness is an issue, but as long as we're being wordy, why not take what is now the main clause and turn it into an introductory phrase as well?

"Standing before him, the colander clenched tightly before her, the tension in her face stabbing at him, she stuck out her tongue."

It almost feels like a Bulwer-Lytton entry. :-)

Myk said...

I love the bite-size lessons on your blog.

And yes, I don't think tension can stab, too.

What is that book anyway?

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Westley, I don't know if that many commas are a good idea.
Myk, I usually keep it secret where I find errors, but since you asked, the book is Rizzo's War.