In a customer review of a Spanish course: “...when using certain Spanish phrases from Pimsleur some of my Spanish speaking friends have actually laughed at me...”
Most readers will have to read that passage at least twice before they recognize what the writer was trying to say:
...when I have used certain Spanish phrases from Pimsleur some of my Spanish speaking friends have actually laughed at me...
In a newspaper story: “Police on Wednesday arrested a 29-year-old man who allegedly threatened to kill his soon-to-be-ex-wife and her mother via text message.”
At first, the reader wonders how a text message could be lethal, but then looks back in the sentence and figures out that “via text message” was supposed to be modifying not “kill” but “threatened.” The sentence probably should have been:
Police on Wednesday arrested a 29-year-old man who allegedly threatened via text message to kill his soon-to-be ex-wife and her mother.
It’s interesting that the headline over the story had the placement right:
“West Haven cops: New Haven man threatened via text message to kill wife, mother-in-law”
The Takeaway: Place every modifier as close as possible to what it modifies. Don’t make your reader work harder to read a sentence than you worked to write it. It’s bad manners.
Thanks to Allegra for pointing out the second example.