Friday, May 22, 2009

Grammar Moses

Today’s lesson: dangling participles.

A participle should describe the grammatical subject of the main clause. When it doesn’t you get a dangling or misrelated participle. Fowler gives the example: “Recently converted into apartments, I passed by the house where I grew up.” There’s also this one quoted in Private Eye in 1988, “Being a vegan bisexual who’s into Nicaraguan coffee picking and boiler suits, you could safely assume that I vote Labour.” You get the idea.

There are some fine examples closer to home thanks to Barney McDonald, who reviews movies for the Sunday Star-Times and is an absolute master of the dangling participle. In his 17 May review (not online yet) of Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long, he writes:
A phenomenally talented actress, [. . .] Thomas’s fluent French and world-weary eyes are undeniably compelling.
Which is to say, her fluent French is a phenomenally talented actress, as are her eyes.
An acclaimed novelist, his film embraces. . .
His film is a novelist.

Elsewhere McDonald he tells us of the film’s “impenetrable tone”, and about a man who buries “his own head” in a book. His own head, you see, not anybody else’s.

I’m told they have sub-editors at the SST, but you’d never know it.

4 comments:

David Cohen said...

"Impenetrable tone" seems okay, assuming McDonald is is saying something about the film's inflections being hard to comprehend. Also, you don't always get a misrelated participle, or a lousy line, by constructing a sentence in the fashion you describe. Take a sentence like, "However, Thomas’s fluent French and world-weary eyes are undeniably compelling." Now correct me if I'm wrong, but the "however" here is an inferential participle, and it works just fine.

Stephen Stratford said...

I see you and raise you Bernard's latest from the 24 May edition:

"Considering the film is shot in Victoria, the burning trees and fleeing animals cannot help but recall the recent devastation in the Australian state."

I bet they can't.

David Cohen said...

I suggest we share the pot.

For the next dealer's call, may I direct your attention to a fuller exegesis on the collected criticism of Bernard Kael:

http://www.nbr.co.nz/opinion/david-cohen/off-frame-views-are-no-reviews

Denis said...

Gentlemen, gentlemen - the place to go for spectacular sub-editing is the Yahoo/Telecom home page. There's a headline on today's one telling us 'Woman attacked by river'. It turns out she was attacked near a river, and by another human. Still, it is a warning to keep an eye on that water.. You never know, you just never know, that when you turn your back, for a second, and one of those vicious, crafty creeks will up and hang one on you.