Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Topic: Free Modifiers and Writing

10-second review: Review of a book that emphasizes “free modifiers” (or absolutes) in constructing sentences.

Title: Review of Selected Techniques for Teaching Writing: A Handbook for Teachers, Grades 4-12, by Wm. S. Palmer. Reviewed by RL Cramer. Journal of Reading (January 1979), 379-379.

Quote: “In Part Two Palmer sets forth a series of techniques for teaching writing based on the use of free modifiers.” P. 278.

The following explanation from the Internet tells what is meant by “free modifiers,” a sentence technique characteristic of professional writers:

Free Modifiers
--From Process and Procedure by Harold Harp and Walt Klarner
“When revising, the writer adds detail in free modifiers. When editing the writer expresses detail in free modifiers. Free modifiers are added to a base sentence and set off with commas. They may be added to the beginning of a sentence (initial modifiers), within the sentence (medial modifiers) or at the end (final modifiers).

Initial modifier: Tossing her books on the table,  she ran into the kitchen.
Medial modifier: The test, a comprehensive history final, lasted a full two hours.
Final modifier: She looked around the room, her eyes reflecting her confidence. “

Comment: I have read research which has shown that “mature” writers and professional writers make frequent use of free modifiers (or “absolutes,” which is the formal grammatical term). I believe that that research is true and I find it interesting that the author of this book concentrated on the use of free modifiers for the purpose of improving sentence structure and therefore improving writing. This, after the first part of the book makes the case that grammar is not much use for improving writing. Call it what you will, free modifiers are  grammatical constructions that improve writing. And I would add the careful use of parallel structure, avoiding dangling modifiers and the use of active voice as other grammatical structures that improve writing. RayS.

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