5 More Examples of Misplaced Modifiers

By Mark Nichol

Make sure that when you shoehorn additional information into a sentence, it is being wedged in at a location where its relationship to a word or phrase is clear. Each of the following sentences suffers from ambiguity because of sloppy syntax; the discussions and revisions clear the confusion.

1. Many students let friends and family know they were safe in social media posts.

The sentence implies that students found safety within social media posts, but the fact that such posts were the medium by which students communicated their safe status to friends and family is best relocated to immediately after the subject: “Many students used social media to let friends and family know they were safe.” (This revision also places the key word, safe, where it is most effectively located—at the end of the sentence.)

2. Millennials consist of people born from 1980 to 2000; to put it more simply for them, since they grew up not having to do a lot of math in their heads, thanks to computers, their demographic group consists mostly of teens and twentysomethings.

The location of “thanks to computers” creates initial ambiguity: Does it modify the preceding phrase, or the one that follows? Computers bear the blame for millennials’ lack of facility with cranial computation, or the age range of their demographic group is credited to computers? The former choice is the correct one, obviously, but it’s not clear until after the first or even second reading.

To clarify the sentence’s intent, that parenthetical phrase should appear earlier in the sentence: “To put it more simply for millennials, since, thanks to computers, they grew up not having to do a lot of math in their heads, their demographic group consists mostly of teens and twentysomethings.” Better yet, to reduce comma clutter, write, “Millennials consist of people born from 1980 to 2000; to put it more simply for them—since, thanks to computers, they grew up not having to do a lot of math in their heads—their demographic group consists mostly of teens and twentysomethings.”

3. The Financial Conduct Authority is a financial regulatory body that operates independently of the UK government, whose responsibilities include maintaining financial market integrity.

The simplest solution for this sentence—which unintentionally states that the UK government, rather than the Financial Conduct Authority, bears the specified responsibility—is to merely replace the comma with and to create a compound modifying phrase. But a more elegant solution is to place the trailing modifying phrase as a mid-sentence parenthetical comment: “The Financial Conduct Authority, whose responsibilities include maintaining financial market integrity, is a financial regulatory body that operates independently of the UK government.”

4. In fact, if employers do not reinforce learning, the forgetting curve shows that about 80 percent of important workplace information can be forgotten in the first month.

According to this sentence, the failure of employers to reinforce learning causes the forgetting curve to demonstrate the percentage of key workplace information forgotten within a month. But the forgetting curve needs no such prompting. “The forgetting curve” is the subject, and it should be nearer the head of the sentence (after a brief modifying tag): “In fact, the forgetting curve shows that if employers do not reinforce learning, about 80 percent of important workplace information can be forgotten in the first month.”

5. If a third party is to be given consumers’ personal information, such as an auditing organization, data should be anonymized.

An auditing organization is identified in this sentence as an example of consumers’ personal information. But an auditing organization is an example of a third party, so that parenthetical phrase should immediately follow “third party”: “If a third party, such as an auditing organization, is to be given healthcare consumers’ consumers’ personal information, data should be anonymized.”

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


3 Responses to “5 More Examples of Misplaced Modifiers”

  • Thebluebird11

    I don’t understand that second sentence (about the millennials) even with your revision. Obviously people born between 1980 and 2000 are now teens and twenty-somethings. That is because they were born between 1980 and 2000! What is it that needs to be put simply for them? Are they so stupid that they can’t do that little bit of math in their heads to calculate how old they are based on when they were born? Either the sentence is missing something, or I am.

  • Mark Nichol

    Thebluebird11:

    There’s always a risk that the sentences I use for illustration of various types of errors will be confusing because they’re removed from their context. Yes, the writer was making jest of the fact that millennials were deprived of instruction of math basics during their elementary school education.

  • Thebluebird11

    Mark, I had a feeling it was an issue of context, but for the sake of keeping my comment short, I didn’t go on about it. It wasn’t clear if this was a sentence from a professional website or some random blog comment where any 10-year-old can write anything and nobody expects proper grammar etc. Not that I mean to insult 10-year-olds…

Leave a comment: