As an editor and translator with years of experience in correcting English written by non-native speakers, I have come across certain areas that seem to be major pitfalls for Chinese speakers when writing in English. These mistakes are usually the writer's Chinese grammar or diction unconsciously coming out in their English exposition, or perhaps simply a unfamiliarity with English composition at its higher levels.
This monthly column can teach you to spot these common writing pitfalls and thus avoid having them find their way into your English composition. It will not be a list of grammar rules to follow, but instead a look into how we can improve the style and force of our English writing.
Misplaced Modifiers (or do you know where your participle phrase is pointing?)
Let’s look at the following three phrases. Can you tell what they all have in common?
Filled with hope after receiving the aid,
Since joining the WHO,
By bringing desperately needed supplies,
Simply put, they are all participle phrases.
There are many rules detailing the functions and uses of a participle phrase and I encourage you to look them up, however, for the scope of this column it is suffice to say that participle phrases act as adjectives modifying a noun. And one of the cardinal rules of modification is to get the modifier as close as possible to the word it describes.
Now we can look at the entire sentences (all three of which were written by non-native speakers):
1，Filled with hope after receiving the aid, the volunteers hope the tenants of the hotel can one day join their ranks and work to help others in need.
2，Since joining the WHO, many medical supplies could now be imported to china.
3，By bringing desperately needed supplies, many lives have been saved by the volunteers.
Let’s look at the first sentence.
Filled with hope after receiving the aid, the volunteers hope the tenants of the hotel can one day join their ranks and work to help others in need.
“Filled with hope after receiving the aid” is a participle phrase that, acting as an adjective, points to a someone or a group of people being “filled with hope”. However, immediately following the phrase we have the noun “the volunteers” . This is what we call a misplaced modifier, as the people who are “filled with hope after receiving the aid” are not the volunteers, but “the tenants of the hotel.” This mix-up occurred because the author of the sentence allowed the modifier (Filled with hope after receiving the aid) and its object (the tenants of the hotel) to stray too far apart, thus leading to confusion regrading the true object of the modifying participle phrase. If we are to rewrite this sentence correctly, we need to move the modifier next to the appropriate word:
Filled with hope after receiving the aid, the tenants will perhaps one day join the ranks of the volunteers and work to help others in need.
And remember that a participle phrase can come after the word it modifies:
The volunteers hope that one day the tenets, filled with hope after receiving the aid, will join their ranks and work to help others in need.
A quick look at our second sentence shows us a similar problem:
Since joining the WHO, many medical supplies could now be imported to china.
We have the participle phrase “since joining the WHO” which is mistakenly modifying the word “medical supplies” instead of china. After all, it is china that joined the WHO, not the medical supplies! So, like with our first sentence, we need to bring the modifier and the word it describes closer together:
Since joining the WHO, china now imports many medical supplies.
As for our third sentence, I will leave it to our readers. Just follow the above two examples and you should have no problem.