This holiday season, we'd like to bestow a lesson on how to avoid a common grammatical error: the dangling modifier.
This is the fancy term for a mistake that miscommunicates what you mean to say, sometimes with comical or even damaging results.
Example 1: After staying up almost all night to write a 10-page term paper, the baby woke me up at 5 a.m.
Unless you have a genius baby who attends college, you meant that you were up all night writing a paper. That's not what that sentence says.
Example 2: Having filed for bankruptcy last month, our company helped our client through the process.
What you're trying to say is that you helped your client's business through bankruptcy when it closed last month; but, what you really said is that your company filed for bankruptcy.
In non-technical terms, here is how you can avoid this kind of mistake. If you notice you've written a sentence in a format like the above examples, check the noun immediately following the comma. Ask yourself: "Is this noun what I am refering to in the opening part of the sentence?" If so, you're clear. If not, you need to rewrite it.
In Example 1, the first noun after the comma is "baby." Were you talking about the baby in the first part of the sentence? No, you were talking about yourself.
Here's how you might fix a sentence with a dangling modifier, based on the examples above:
Example 1: After staying up almost all night to write a 10-page term paper, I was awoken by the baby at 5 a.m.
Example 2: Having filed for bankruptcy last month, our client asked that we help them through the process.
Note that in both corrected examples, the noun immediately following the comma is what is referred to in the first part of the sentence.
Now, we might suggest completely rewriting Example 1 because now, although grammatically correct, it is written in passive voice, which is not the strongest sentence structure...but we'll save that lesson for another holiday.