White Man's Dress Shirt

Now and then I run across a sentence that makes me scratch my head. The latest:
The list of required items included a white man’s dress shirt, black pants, and a red bow tie.
This particular one tickled my funny bone. How does one distinguish between a white man’s dress shirt and one worn by a man of another color? For total clarity, the author could reword it thusly:
... a man’s white dress shirt ... .
Here’s another:
Being an old junker, I was able to purchase the car for nearly nothing.
Oh my! People don’t generally admit to being in that condition, but if I could get a car for nearly nothing, there’s no telling what condition I might claim to be in. Let’s try again:
Since it was an old junker, I was able to purchase the car for nearly nothing.

The car was an old junker that cost me nearly nothing.

I was able to purchase the old junker for a song.
One more example:
I invited to the seminar led by Rick Warren those reps in the company distinguished by their low volume to get them motivated.
Oh my! Where to start on this one? Here’s a shot:
I invited the sales reps in the company with the lowest volume to a seminar by Rick Warren, hoping to increase their motivation.

Hoping to increase their motivation, I invited the company’s low-ball sales reps to a sales seminar led by Rick Warren.
Attention to word order can make a major difference!

The best way to avoid sending such awkward sentences out into the world is to let your stories age before you share them. Set them aside and work on something else for a at least a few days before rereading. You can also ask a trusted friend or family member to read with pen in hand, and writing groups (real-time or online) are a great way to get constructive feedback.

For more examples of repair techniques for sentences like this, click over to The Grammar Police. In two recent posts, The Mod(ification) Squad, Part One, and Part Two, Shawn Hansen tells you just about everything you'd ever want to know about dangling and misplaced modifiers.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal

Countdown: 55 days until the release of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing on July 1. Stay tuned for ordering details.


Stephanie West Allen said...

Sharon, do you see something wrong with one of these sentences?


Hint: it is in the third paragraph.

Ritergal said...

Too funny! If 50,000 tourists a year can do without it, obviously libido isn't as critical as many would have us believe.

Neither of those sentences gets a gold star. The first sentence is also klunky. Hint: what does "without success" refer to?

Thanks Stephanie

Shawn Hansen said...


I have to say of all the errors I see in writing, I look most forward to stuff like this.

It might require a bit of my red ink, but at least there is laughter involved,and from a teaching perspective, it's easy to convince students how awkward it is to dangle and/or misplace modifiers.

In honor of the topic: I was enjoying a morning cup of coffee with your blog. When I read the white man's shirt sentence, it made me laugh so hard, it almost came out of my nose.

(I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist!)


Great catch on the libido thing.
What fun!