Thursday, June 25, 2009

Placement of modifiers (6)

Misplaced modifiers will annoy your readers. So will dangling modifiers. So will modifiers that could be misplaced modifiers or dangling modifiers.

Here’s an example from The Wall Street Journal. In an online news alert today, the Journal reported recent decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. The last item in the alert was this:

“Justices have yet to rule on a case involving a New Haven, Conn., decision to scrap the results of a firefighter test over race. The court is expected to release its decision by next week.”

The writer of this alert has left it up to the reader to guess which noun or verb the prepositional phrase over race modifies.

If it modifies to rule, case, decision, to scrap, or results, then over race is a misplaced modifier.

If it modifies a noun or verb that does not appear in the same sentence, then over race is a dangling modifier.

If it modifies test, which immediately precedes it in the sentence, then over race is neither a misplaced modifier nor a dangling modifier. However, the reader is left to guess the logic: what kind of test is a “test over race”?

The Takeaway: Respect your readers’ time and intelligence. Avoid misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers. Place every modifier close to the word being modified. And be sure the logic of your modifiers is clear.

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