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One Thing Leads to Another

One thing I see a lot in manuscripts is two sequential events happening simultaneously. Authors often construct sentences like this:

• Turning the doorknob, she ran over and grabbed him and pushed him away.

• She stirred the cereal on the stove, sitting down with a sigh.

• Opening the car door, he turned on the ignition and started the car.

• He poured a cup of water, setting it down on the night stand.

Certain things have to occur in sequence. You first turn the doorknob, then open the door, then grab the guy. You stir the cereal, then sit down and sigh (maybe you are sick of eating cereal?). After the man opens the car door, he then turns on the ignition and starts the car. Don’t be afraid to use then. It’s a useful word:

I wrote this sentence, then went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee—not: I wrote this sentence, heading into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Well, maybe if I balanced my laptop with one hand and typed with the other, I could manage to accomplish that feat.

Don’t Dangle

I see a lot of dangling participles. Okay, you are probably wondering just what the darn things are (so you can avoid them)! Here are some examples.

• While writing the memo, the phone rang [the phone is writing the memo]

• Having been told she was always late, an alarm clock was the solution [the clock was told it was late, and it’s a girl clock!]

• Upon opening the door, the handle was stuck [the handle is opening the door]

• When writing a sentence, the pen slipped. [the pen is writing the sentence]

• While racing up the hill, my tears gushed out [the tears are racing up the hill]

• Driving down the street, the mansion came into view [the mansion is driving]


So, always be sure to match the initial action taking place with the correct subject:

• While I was writing the memo, the phone rang, or

• While writing the memo, I heard the phone ring.

These may be a bit tricky to spot, but be alert to when you start the sentence with a dependent phrase (incomplete) using a gerund (a word with ing). I prefer in my own writing to rewrite the sentence so that I don’t start with an incomplete phrase. I feel writing comes across cleaner that way.

Are You Coordinating?

I think one of the more subtle problems in punctuation is understanding a coordinate adjective and when to use a comma. It’s up to you to determine if the adjectives describing a noun are coordinate or “equal” in their description. If so, you need a comma. A trick to figuring out if you need a comma is to say the sentence a different way. Here’s what I do:

First, the sentence: I have a thick wide green book.

I then say, “I have a book that is green, wide, and thick.” Wide and thick are similar adjectives, but green describes the book in a different manner. In fact, I have a green book that is thick and wide. That means I would punctuate the sentence like this:

“I have a thick, wide green book.” You don’t want to separate the noun from the immediate adjective with a comma. Continue Reading…

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