Avoid Dangling Participles

One of the most common writing mistakes is the dangling participle. It not only confuses the reader as to what the writer is saying, but it also completely damages the flow of writing. So how should one avoid making this mistake? But first… what is a dangling participle?

A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective. Present participles are formed by adding –ing. For example, crying or swimming.  Past participles are formed by adding –ed.  For example, twisted or talked. (There are some irregular past participles as well – like –ade, –own, –en, etc. Only examples with –ed will be used here, but the same goes with the other endings.) These participles given here as examples –crying, swimming, twisted, and talked – are verbs but can act like adjectives as well. For example:

The crying baby was hungry.

The swimming competition is on Monday.

The twisted rope hung from the tree.

The most talked stories of the day are of the Winter Olympics.

In these examples, crying, swimming, twisted, and talked are verbs that are acting like adjectives. Hence, they are participles.

So what are dangling participles?

The word “dangling” means “hanging”. So, a dangling participle is a participle that is just hanging there in your sentence, without a subject or anything else. For example:

Flitting from flower to flower, the girl watched the butterfly.

Who is flitting? The girl or the butterfly?

Walking down the road, a friend bumped into me.

Who bumped? The friend or me?

In these examples, the participles have no subjects. They are “dangling”, making the sentences confusing as to what exactly the writer is saying. This has made the writing ambiguous, and we all know that ambiguous writing is bad writing. Therefore, when writing, be careful and avoid writing dangling participles. This can easily be done by giving the participle a proper subject, generally given right after the participle. Like this –

Example 1: Flitting from flower to flower, the butterfly was watched by the girl. Or, rewrite as – The girl watched the butterfly flitting from flower to flower.

Example 2: Walking down the road, I bumped into a friend.

Sometimes dangling participles can be so funny that they make you laugh. Have you ever come across such participles? What have been the funniest dangling participles that you have seen written?

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Writing Prompts of the Week – 8

Create stories, articles, or poems from the following prompts:

1. What are the things that make you very happy?

2. You are a witness to a murder. What do you do?

3. Will you raise your child the way you were brought up by your parents? Why or why not?

4. If you were to find out that the person you considered to be your best friend actually hates you, what would you do?

5. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this picture?

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Important Latin Words and Terms

Yesterday we talked about the value of the study of Latin. Today we give below some of the many Latin words and terms that all writers should know. These words and terms are seen written all around the world in almost all languages in all academic fields. Therefore, it’s important that all writers know them. They needn’t be learnt by heart, but it is a good idea to get familiarized with them as they are often seen written in different contexts in various media.

Most commonly used Latin words and expressions:

Ad hoc: to this. Something created for a specific purpose. Like an ad hoc committee.

Ad valorem: to the value. Something related to the value of another thing. For example, an ad valorem tax.

Affidavit: a sworn written statement. A legal statement.

Alibi: elsewhere. If a person has an alibi, it means he can prove he was elsewhere.

Bona fide: good faith. This mainly refers to contracts. To respect the contract, one must act in good faith.

De facto: common in practice. Something which is not established by law but is common in practice.  Like a de facto official language.

In toto: completely. Refers to something that is taken in its entirety. For example, taking a project in toto.

Modus operandi: a way of doing things. Mainly used when referring to a person’s way of doing things. Like  a thief’s modus operandi; that is, the way he goes about stealing.

Per se: by itself. When something is taken per se, it is taken by itself, without considering the external factors.

Prima facie: by first instance. This is used mainly in legal cases. If a case is prima facie, it means there is enough evidence to go forward with the indictment.

Pro bono: for the public good. If, for example, a lawyer works on a case pro bono, he works for the public good. In other words, he works for free.

Sic: thus. Sic is usually placed within brackets in front of incorrect word or words indicating that the words are not the writer’s.

Terra firma: solid earth. Being on terra firma refers to be being on firm ground rather than on sea.

Vice versa: the other way around. For example, if you say “he likes her and vice versa”, it means that she too likes him.

Vox populi: voice of the people. Refers to the general public, or the voice of the common man.

Which other Latin word or term do you think should also have been included here?

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The Value of the Study of Latin

When I had taken Latin as one of my subjects in high school, I hadn’t realized how helpful it would turn out to be. To be very honest, I didn’t really want to take it, but the only reason I studied it was because my English teacher had asked me to. She had explained the importance of Latin not only for the study of English, but for practically all fields of study. Today I am happy that I listened to her advice and can proudly say that I have had the privilege of studying Latin and have found the language to be of enduring value. What is this value?

They say Latin is a dead language, but if you ask me, it is an immortal language. It may not be spoken anywhere in the world, but it is still studied all over the world. Why? Because –

1. Latin is the root of most modern European languages, including English. Its study helps in the study of the English language. Generally, when we study English, we do so without really understanding the whys of the grammar. We speak and write English the way we do because we are told that this is the way we should, because that is the correct way. But why is it the correct way? This is what Latin teaches us – the rules and the reasons of grammar. Once we learn these, we get a better understanding of the English Language. Humorist Stephen Leacock once said, “People learn to write good English by writing bad Latin”.

2. Most English words have Latin derivatives. Therefore, the study of Latin gives us a better understanding of words, their meanings and uses. As a result of this better understanding, we acquire a wider vocabulary and can use the right word in the right manner.

3. In all fields of study and professions – whether science, law, or humanities – the technical words are in Latin. A good understanding of Latin gives us a better understanding of the technical terms. We, therefore, don’t have to struggle with the meanings of the terms and their uses.

4. It may easily be argued by some that if one is not going to enter a professional career, Latin is of no use. But here these people are wrong. According to experts, the discipline involved in the study of Latin is excellent mental exercise. It develops the human brain, and consequently increases the intelligence level in a person.

So, we can see how important the study of Latin is. It gives us a better understanding of all aspects of the English language, and as a result makes us better writers.

I’d love to hear from people who have studied Latin. How has it helped them get a better understanding of the English language? Has it helped them become better writers?

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Short Story Writing Tips by Kurt Vonnegut

Well known writer Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote some wonderful short stories, offers short story writing tips.

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Business E-mail Etiquette – 3

Business e-mails are something that almost all of us have to write some time or the other – whether we’re students, job seekers, business executives, or just about anyone else. Even stay-at-homes need to write them sometimes. How crucial well written e-mails are we have already discussed in our previous posts. The heading fields were discussed in Part 1 and the body in Part 2. Now here are some other points that have to be kept in mind in order to produce a well written and well formatted business e-mail:

1. Make it personal: A personal touch to the business e-mail always proves to be more effective. Custom the content according to the person you are writing to. In other words, keep the personal touch only as far as you know the person, don’t take it too far. Try and avoid auto replies, they’re too “mechanical”.

2. Answer swiftly: Reply to e-mails as soon as possible, within 24 hours if possible. If for some reason you cannot reply immediately, then write to them saying that you have received their e-mail and will get back to them as soon as possible.  This shows your efficiency and professionalism.

3. Keep the message thread:  It is better to hit the reply button and keep the original message rather than starting a new mail.  A person very often receives several e-mails a day and it becomes difficult to remember everything. A thread works as a reminder of what the e-mail is about.

4. Be polite: This is very important. You wouldn’t want to give the impression of being rude or disrespectful. So, be careful in the choice of words and the tone of your language. Never use all capitals, all capitals means you’re shouting.

5. Don’t use abbreviations and emoticons: The use of abbreviations and emoticons in business e-mails is considered inappropriate. Besides, you can never be sure whether the person you’re writing to understands the abbreviations or not. Same goes for emoticons, like a smiley. The recipient may wonder why it’s there, which in turn may lead to misunderstandings.

6. Avoid the use of rich text or HTML: Remember, not all e-mail clients read rich text or HTML. Also, many offices keep their e-mail settings to plain text. So, if you send them in rich text or HTML, they might not be able to read your message, or they will get it as a .txt attachment.

7. Be careful with attachments: We all know how attachments can carry viruses, so very often recipients don’t even open them. So, if you do need to send an attachment, ask the recipient first if it’s ok to send it. If an attachment is a short one, it is best to copy paste it into the e-mail body itself.

8. Use the high priority option sparingly: Use the high priority option only when your message is urgent. Its overuse will lose its function, and you may also come across as being aggressive.

9. Add disclaimers:  Disclaimers are very important. They protect you and your company from liability. So, always have disclaimers at the end of your messages.

10. Re-read before sending: Always re-read what you have written in the e-mail before sending it. Re-read through the eyes of the recipient – this not only corrects grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, but also avoids misunderstandings and inappropriate use of words or comments.

All these points may seem trivial, but go a long way in producing effective and professional e-mails, which in turn give a good impression of you as a business person.

Have I mentioned everything here, or have I missed anything? Or do you disagree with any of the given points? Please share your thoughts here so others may also benefit.

Business E-mail Etiquette – 1

Business E-mail Etiquette – 2

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Quotes on Poetry by Poets

*  Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.  ~ Khalil Gibran

*  Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.  ~ Carl Sandburg

*  Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them.  ~ Dennis Gabor

*  Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.  ~ Paul Engle

*  Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.  ~ Robert Frost

*  Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.  ~ Charles Simic

*  Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.  ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

*  Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject.  ~ John Keats

*  Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.  ~ Salvatore Quasimodo

*  A poem should not mean but be.  ~ Archibald MacLeish

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