Leaving Cert English: FML ways to lose easy marks, part 1

As you know, we read your typed-up essays for free and give you feedback (via answer at 625points dot com)

There is one mistake that people make time and time again. Those who could get an H1 and those who are struggling have this in common.

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It is a style mistake violating the following rule:

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject. 


You may also have heard of "dangling participles" or "misplaced modifiers". It sounds very confusing, but let's just look at the examples directly from your essays to explain what this means:

1. Having scrolled through my Instagram feed full of near perfect images, my mood was terrible. [Incorrect]

The mood didn't scroll, you scrolled:

Having scrolled through my Instagram feed full of near perfect images, I found myself in a terrible mood. [Correct]

2. Varying from the fascinating historic city of Madrid to the dazzling beaches of Portugal and even all the way across to the exciting bright lights of New York City, I have been fortunate enough to experience various fantastic destinations.  [Incorrect]

The intro doesn't relate to the person: she didn't do any varying. This sentence is absurdly long anyway. Long sentences hard to read and hard to write. They do have a place: when you can go back and edit. The Leaving Cert isn't one of those occasions, so don't do it. It's like trying to jog in heels - bad idea. This is better, but I am still tempted to cut up the long sentence:

I have been fortunate enough to travel to various memorable destinations. Varying from the fascinating historic city of Madrid to the dazzling beaches of Portugal and even all the way across to the exciting bright lights of New York City, they have all left an impression. [Correct]

(They refers to destinations). 

3. As a player with a long track record of athletic achievements, they appointed him to be captain.  [Incorrect]

They aren't the player:

As a player with a long track record of athletic achievements, he was appointed as the new captain. [Correct]


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You may also like: Leaving Cert Grammar 101

4. Unable to tell the difference between genuine love and needy platitudes, Lear's life unfolds tragically throughout the play.  [Incorrect]

Lear himself is unable to tell the difference, not his life:
Unable to tell the difference between genuine love and needy platitudes, Lear suffers through tragic consequences throughout the play. [Correct]

5. In Hopkin's poetry, he uses a unique style throughout which effectively conveys the intensity of feeling in the poetry.  [Incorrect]

This isn't technically wrong, but it sure is awkward. This was the introductory sentence to a good essay. You don't want to make the examiner wince and then spend the next 4 pages convincing them that you're not so bad after all. Also note that the "in poetry" part is repeated. Why? A much clearer sentence would be:

Hopkins uses a unique style throughout his poetry to effectively convey the intensity of his feelings. [Correct]

6. In spite of being the play’s protagonist, Hamlet’s death is no exception to this pattern. [Incorrect]

Death is not the protagonist. Hamlet is.

In spite of being the play’s protagonist, Hamlet is no exception to this plot pattern. [Correct]

7. Unlike Nora and Jack in TPATS, this marriage is honest and supportive. [Incorrect]

Nora and Jack are not a type of marriage.

Unlike Nora and Jack in TPATS, Elizabeth makes her marriage honest and supportive. [Correct]
or 
Unlike Nora and Jack's marriage in TPATS, the marriage described in TKS is honest and supportive.

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