In each of the following sentences, ambiguity or confusion results from faulty placement of a modifying phrase. Discussion and a revision of each sentence illustrates a solution to the problem.
1. The organization provides youth and adults with disabilities job training and employment services.
Does disabilities apply to the youth and adults, or does it refer to the job training and employment services? To clarify the sentence’s meaning, precede the reference to the recipients of what is offered with the description of what is offered: “The organization provides job training and employment services for youth and adults with disabilities.”
2. Here are some obscure names for everyday things we don’t usually use.
Does the list (accompanied by photographs of the object in the source material for this example) pertain to a) names of seldom-used things, or b) seldom-used names of things? The correct answer is b, but the way the sentence is written, the reference is ambiguous. To clarify, write, “Here are the obscure names we don’t usually use for everyday things.”
3. The man, whose wife and baby still live in the city, did not want his name used for their safety.
The sentence reads as if the man did not want his name used to contribute to the safety of his wife and child, or as if he wanted his name used for some reason other than their safety. However, it means that, for fear of reprisal, he was protecting them by not using his name. This revision more clearly conveys that meaning: “Out of concern for the safety of his wife and baby, who still live in the city, the man did not want his name used.”
4. Smith didn’t endear himself to voters by refusing to participate in a debate scheduled for Monday.
This sentence suggests that Smith used some other strategy for endearing himself to voters other than refusing to participate in the scheduled debate. (If so, why is the alternative strategy not described?) Simply inserting a comma after voters (“Smith didn’t endear himself to voters, by refusing to participate in a debate scheduled for Monday”) will help readers absorb the sentence’s meaning, but it’s an awkward solution; better yet, transpose the subordinate clause and the main clause: “By refusing to participate in a debate scheduled for Monday, Smith didn’t endear himself to voters.”
5. Incorporate external-risk indicators into analysis, such as economic or industry-specific details.
Economic or industry-specific details are examples of external-risk indicators, not of analysis, so the final phrase of the sentence should parenthetically follow indicators, not analysis: “Incorporate external-risk indicators, such as economic or industry-specific details, into analysis.”
2 thoughts on “5 Sentences with Misplaced Modifiers”
Sometimes the results of misplaced modifiers can be pretty funny. Here is one example, ripped from this morning’s local headlines (with names deleted to protect those involved): “Former [church] pastor [name] announced he will be going into treatment on Facebook Live.”
But sometimes you just can’t win. I remember my 8-year-old niece seeing a newspaper headline that said, “Black Bears Spotted in East Mountains”. She asked, “What color were their spots?”