3 Cases of Confusion with Introductory Adverbial Phrases
When an adverb or a phrase serving an adverbial function begins a sentence, the writer must take care not to introduce a simple punctuation mistake that erroneously associates that introductory word or phrase with the subject rather than the object. These three examples illustrate the problem and provide solutions.
1. “Eventually, I hope we’ll be able to exploit such opportunities.”
Eventually means “at some point in the future,” and this sentence expresses the writer’s sentiment that at some point in the future, he or she will hope. What the writer means, however, is that he or she hopes that at some point in the future, exploitation may occur. To accurately convey this meaning, “I hope” should either begin the sentence (“I hope that eventually, we’ll be able to exploit such opportunities”) or should be bracketed with a second comma to form a parenthetical (“Eventually, I hope, we’ll be able to exploit such opportunities”).
2. “By the end of the quarter, we are sure that productivity will improve.”
This sentence reads as if the writer were attempting to mention that he or she and others will be certain at the end of the period stated, but if that were true, the sentence should read, “By the end of the quarter, we will be sure that productivity will improve.” More likely, however, the statement has the same problem as the first example.
For the sake of clarity, the sentence should begin with the subject: “We are sure that by the end of the quarter, productivity will improve.” Alternatively, “We are sure,” to remove it from the chronological reference, should be parenthetical: “By the end of the quarter, we are sure, productivity will improve.”
3. “With some additional effort, they are confident that he will be successful.”
Again, the writer is erroneously associating the subject represented by the pronoun with the introductory phrase. The solution, as before, is to start with the subject (“They are confident that with some additional effort, he will be successful”) or to make the phrase containing the pronoun a parenthetical phrase (“With some additional effort, they are confident, he will be successful”).
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