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Sentence Problems: Sentence Snarls Sentences with structural inconsistencies make readers pause to untangle the meaning.

The following topics point out how to avoid or edit common snarls. Fuzzy Syntax Misplaced Modifiers Dangling Modifiers Shifts Faulty Predication Definitions and Reasons Adverb Clause as Subject Omissions and Restated Subjects
Sentence Snarls: Dangling Modifiers A modifier is a word or phrase that describes or limits another word or phrase. A dangling modifier is one that does not clearly modify whatever word or phrase it is intended to describe.
Faulty Walking into the house, the telephone rang. [Who was walking? The sentence says it was the telephone.]

[According to the sentence, the parade route was delighted.] Method 1 Method 2 Delighted with the team's victory, the fans decorated the parade route. Because the fans were delighted with the team's victory, they decorated the parade route.

Sentence Snarls: Misplaced Modifiers Keep words, phrases, and clauses that provide adjectival or adverbial information next to the sentence element that they modify. That is, avoid misplaced modifiers. Take care with words such as only. Place a word such as only, even, just, nearly, merely, or simply immediately before the word it modifies. Faulty Revised She only likes Tom. She likes only Tom. [Tom is the only one she likes.]

The meaning of a sentence can change significantly as the position of only changes, so careful placement is important. Examples

Only the journalist began to investigate the burglary.


The journalist only began to investigate the burglary. The journalist began to investigate only the burglary.

Fix a dangling modifier in the following ways: Method 1 Retain the modifier, but make the subject of the independent clause the person or thing modified.
Revised Walking into the house, we heard the telephone ring.

Place a phrase or clause close to the word it modifies. Faulty They sent a present to their mother wrapped in silver paper. [This sentence gives the impression that the mother was wrapped in silver paper.] They sent their mother a present wrapped in silver paper. They sent a present wrapped in silver paper to their mother. Avoid splitting an infinitive unless you have a good reason to do so. You split an infinitive when you place a word or phrase between to and the verb. Such splitting is likely to irritate readers, especially when a clumsy sentence is the result.
Example We want to sincerely and honestly inform you of our plans for expansion.

Method 2 Change the modifier phrase into a complete clause with its own subject and verb.
Revised While we were walking into the house, the telephone rang.

Revised

Sample Correction of Dangling Modifier Delighted with the team's victory, the parade route was decorated by the fans.

[split infinitive = to sincerely and honestly inform]

The unsplit form is grammatically safer, but it might at times introduce ambiguity. Faulty Teachers are advised occasionally to hold conferences. Teachers are advised to hold conferences occasionally. [Are teachers advised occasionally? Or should the conferences be held occasionally?] Revised Teachers are advised to occasionally hold conferences. [Now it is clear that the conferences should be held once in a while.] Revised You can justify splitting an infinitive when doing so makes your sentence less awkward or less ambiguous. Otherwise, use the unsplit form. You may also consider recasting the sentence. Revised Teachers are advised that they should hold occasional conferences.

adopt new personality traits. [This version deletes the preposition By and eliminates the prepositional phrase; now the -ing phrase functions as the subject of might lead.]

When you make comparisons, your reader needs to know clearly what you are comparing to what.
Faulty Like Wallace Stevens, her job strikes readers as unexpected for a poet. [It is not her job that is like the poet Wallace Stevens; her job is like his job.] Like Wallace Stevens, she holds a job that strikes readers as unexpected for a poet.

In addition, revise sentences that ramble on to such an extent that they become tangled. Make sure they have clear subjects and verbs and use coordination or subordination effectively. Cut and check for action.
Faulty particular position or item that you want to try to get to do your best and not give up because if you give up you have probably missed your chance of succeeding. To get what you want, keep trying.

Sentence Snarls: Fuzzy Syntax Revise sentences that begin in one way and then veer off the track departing from the original structure. When you mix constructions, make faulty comparisons, or tangle your syntax (sentence structure), you confuse your reader.
Faulty Revised With some professors who never give grades like to write comments. Some professors who never give grades like to write comments. [A prepositional phrase such as with some professors cannot serve as the subject of a sentence.] By wanting to take on a greater role in business might lead a woman to adopt new personality traits. [The reader gets to the verb might lead, without knowing what the subject is.] By wanting to take on a greater role in business, a woman might adopt new personality traits. [This version provides a grammatical subject woman for the independent clause.] Wanting to take on a greater role in business might lead a woman to

Revised

Sentence Snarls: Shifts Avoid shifts from statements to commands.


Faulty Revised The students in this university should do more to keep the place clean. Pick up the litter and treat the dorms like home. The students in this university should do more to keep the place clean. They should pick up the litter and treat the dorms like home.

Faulty

Revised

Avoid shifts from indirect to direct quotations. A sentence that begins with an indirect quotation should continue in

Revised

that way. It should not switch to a direct quotation, either with or without quotation marks.
Faulty Revised The client told us that he wanted to sign the lease and would we prepare the papers. The client told us that he wanted to sign the lease and asked us to prepare the papers. She wanted to find out whether any interest had accumulated on her account and was she receiving any money. She wanted to find out whether any interest had accumulated on her account and whether she was receiving any money.

Writing about reasons has pitfalls similar to writing definitions. Avoid the reason is because . . . in standard written English. Grammatically, an adverb clause beginning with because cannot follow the verb be.Instead, use the reason is that . . . or recast the sentence. Faulty Revised

The reason Sampras lost is because his opponent was serving so well. The reason Sampras lost is that his opponent was serving so well.
Sampras lost because his opponent was serving so well.

Faulty Revised

Note that standard English requires the reason that or the reason; the reason why is not standard. Faulty Revised The TV commentator explained the reason why Sampras lost. The TV commentator explained the reason Sampras lost.

Avoid shifts in point of view. Be consistent in using first, second, or third person pronouns; for example, if you begin by referring to one, do not switch to you or we. Also avoid shifting unnecessarily between third person singular and plural forms. Faulty One needs a high salary to live in a city because you have to
spend so much on rent and transportation. Revised

Sentence Snarls: Faulty Predication Use a logical sequence after the subject. The subject and the predicate of a clause should make sense together. To avoid confusing your reader, never use a subject and predicate that do not make logical sense together.
Faulty Revised The decision to build an elaborate extension onto the train station made all the trains arrive late. Building an elaborate extension onto the train station made all the trains arrive late. [It was not the decision that delayed the trains, but the building of the extension.] A useful strategy in writing is a dictionary. A useful strategy in writing is regular consultation of a dictionary. [A dictionary is not a strategy.]

One needs a high salary to live in a city because one has to


spend so much on rent and transportation.

People need a high salary to live in a city because they have to


spend so much on rent and transportation. A high salary is necessary in a city because rent and transportation cost so much.

Sentence Snarls: Definitions and Reasons


When you write a definition of a term, use parallel structures on either side of the verb be. In formal writing, avoid defining a term using is when or is where (or was when, was where). Faulty Revised A tiebreak in tennis is where they play one final game to decide the set. A tiebreak in tennis is a final deciding game of a set.

Faulty Revised

Sentence Snarls: Adverb Clause as Subject

Revised

An adverb clause cannot function as the subject of a sentence.


Faulty Revised Because she swims every day does not guarantee she is healthy. Swimming every day does not guarantee she is healthy. [The subject is now a phrase, Swimming every day, instead of the clause Because she swims every day.] When beavers eat trees destroys the woods. When beavers eat trees, they destroy the woods. [The dependent clause When beavers eat trees is now attached to an independent clause with its own subject, they.]

The volleyball captain is as competitive as or even more competitive than her teammates. [The comparative structures are as competitive as and more competitive than. Do not merge them.]

Sometimes you create ambiguity for your readers if you omit the verb in the second part of a comparison.
Faulty Revised He liked baseball more than his son. He liked baseball more than his son did. [Omitting did implies that he liked baseball more than he liked his son.]

Faulty Revised

State the grammatical subject only once. Even when the sentence contains a phrase or clause between the subject and the verb, one stated subject is enough. Do not restate the subject in pronoun form.
Faulty Revised The nurse who took care of my father for many years she gave him comfort and advice. The nurse who took care of my father for many years gave him comfort and advice.

Sentence Snarls: Omissions and Restated Subjects Always check your work for omissions of necessary words and for repetitions. Include necessary words in compound structures. If you omit a verb form from a compound verb, the remaining verb form must fit into each part of the compound. Otherwise, you must use the complete verb form.
Faulty Revised He has always and will always try to preserve his father's good name in the community. He has always tried and will always try to preserve his father's good name in the community. [Try fits only with will, not with has.]

Include necessary words in comparisons.


Faulty The volleyball captain is as competitive or even more competitive than her teammates.