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A Friend of Yours?

Are you a friend of John or a friend of John’s? Often writers will leave off the “possessive” apostrophe+s, but you need it. Think about these two phrases:

A portrait of King Henry

A portrait of King Henry’s

In the first instance, you have a portrait of the king. In the second instance, the king owns a portrait. There’s a huge difference in meaning here. So are you a friend of John? No, you are John’s friend—a friend of John’s. And hopefully, he is a friend of yours (not a friend of you).

Do You Smell Bad or Badly?

Here’s something that writers often mix up. When you use verbs that express a state of being rather than an action, like become, feel, seem, smell, sound, taste, you follow them with an adjective, so they are not treated like adverbs. Do you remember the rule about adverbs—they usually have ly at the end? Here’s how you use these types of verbs:

I am fine, he became sad, she feels bad [not badly], they felt ill, you seem happy.

If you say “the fish smells bad,” you mean it stinks. If you say “the fish smells badly,” it means the fish has a poor sense of smell.

If you say “I feel bad,” it means you are sad or sorry. If you say “I feel badly,” it means your fingers are not very sensitive and you can’t tell what you are touching.

If you say “I look different than you,” it means we don’t look alike. But if I say “I look differently than you,” it means my way of looking is not the same as your way.

More Dangling Things

Here are some more dangling things. These are called dangling (and misplaced) modifiers. A writer might start a sentence with a modifying phrase, but all too often she doesn’t start the second phrase with the correct noun (that goes with it). Here are some examples of misplaced modifiers:

• With one hundred years of experience, you can count on Sears. [You don’t have a hundred years of experience.]
• As a scientist, his lab is far from his home. [His lab is not a scientist.]
• Fresh out of school, finding a job was impossible. [“Finding a job” is not fresh out of school.]
• Doctors see babies once they finish their residency. [Do babies go through residency?]
• They visited the lions at the zoo after they ate a zebra. [Who ate the zebra?]
• They are writing a newsletter for parents of teens who take drugs. [Are the parents or the teens taking the drugs?]
• This is a novel of betrayal by a famous author. [Did the author betray someone?]
• She followed the man into the store with determination. [Never knew a store could be so determined!]

These are easy to fix, of course, just by rewording. If you look for sentences you write that have two nouns (subject and object) in them, that will help you spot the potential problem.

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