Monday, November 14, 2011

Placement of modifiers (15)

Careless placement of modifiers is a frequent cause of unclear writing. Here’s an example of the careless placement of a modifier:

The deputy editor of Harvard Magazine lays the blame for passing on these chores to corporations.

The reader at first thinks that the phrase “to corporations” modifies the nearby phrase “passing on.” But this sounds wrong, so the reader reads the sentence again. This time, he recognizes that “to corporations” actually modifies the verb “lays,” which is farther away than “passing on.” In other words, he sees that the writer meant to write:

The deputy editor of Harvard Magazine blames corporations for passing on these chores.

The Takeaway: Place every modifier carefully. Don’t make your readers work harder to read a sentence than you worked to write it.

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