Main units:

  • Verbal Agreements
  • Placement Services
  • Pronouns Are Not for Amateurs (forthcoming October 2017)
  • Countererrorist Measures (forthcoming November 2017)
  • The Comma-ist Manifesto (forthcoming December 2017)
  • Punctuational Punctilio (forthcoming January 2018)
  • A Miscellany of Malpractice (forthcoming February 2018)
>   PLACEMENT SERVICES [Troubles with Positioning Modifiers and Appositives]
 
20.  Flailing Phrases
21.  Based on the title of this chapter, I still have a lot to learn.
22.  In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
23.  The Laggard Modifier
24.  Writers who commit this error sometimes feel bad about it.
25.  Don’t leave your adverbs out in the cold.
26.  The Overreaching Modifier
27.  The Unhinged Appositive
28.  The Mispositioned Appositive

  ^^  20 

Flailing Phrases
 
Grammarians reserve the term dangling modifier for a descriptive phrase flailing and flapping about within a sentence in a futile search for a noun or a pronoun it might fittingly describe. The tragedy is that the sentence lacks any noun or pronoun to which the phrase can fasten itself in a secure and conclusive way. (The whole sorry business is about as much fun as trying to pin the tail on the donkey when the donkey hasn’t even bothered to show up.) The most that the hapless descriptive phrase can manage is cozying up to the nearest available noun or pronoun within the bounds of the sentence, but the two of them always turn out to be incompatible and make no sense together at all. In fact, they often make for a laughable match, as in the beginning of a sentence by the late John Updike, arguably the most lyrically precise describer of American life in the past half-century:
Flying from Boston to New York, my habit is to take a seat on the right-hand side of the plane. . . . (New Yorker)
Maybe a hobbit could make the flight from Beantown to the Big Apple, but could a habit?
      The Updike excerpt reveals the irreality common to many sentences incapacitated by a dangling modifier: human activity is reportedly taking place, but nobody is present to perform it or even witness it. Such sentences are eerily unpeopled. To set things right, you need to usher into the sentence a member of the human race functioning either as an actor or as a perceiver. There are two easy ways to do that—two methods that will work for most dangling modifiers.
      The first is to expand the descriptive phrase into an adverbial dependent clause—the sort of dependent clause that begins with a subordinating conjunction (a word such as although, if, while, as, or because) and that includes both a subject (in this case, of course, the subject had better well have a pulse) and a verb.
When I am flying from Boston to New York, my habit is to take a seat on the right-hand side of the plane. . . .  
The other way to correct the error is to let the descriptive phrase alone and do some major reconstructive work on the independent clause. You’ll need to start the new independent clause with a subject that is logically compatible with the descriptive phrase at the outset of the sentence.
Flying from Boston to New York, I habitually take a seat on the right-hand side of the plane. . . .
Dangling modifiers also derange sentences in which the noun that the writer has intended to serve as the subject of the independent clause is locked away inside a possessive adjective—an adjective formed either by the combination of a singular noun, an apostrophe, and the letter s, or by the combination of a plural noun ending in s and an apostrophe. (Or the intended subject might have morphed itself unhelpfully into a possessive pronoun, such as her or their.) The possessive adjective is then followed by a noun with which the introductory descriptive phrase is logically unsuited.
Since the seventies, [Laurie] Simmons’s photographs have been raising questions about identity and role play, and her new color pictures are no exception: most of them portray “dollers,” people who dress up as the wide-eyed girls in Japanese anime. Wearing outsized heads, the figures’ cloying cuteness is subverted by sexy outfits: mermaids, miniskirts, latex. (New Yorker)
In the second sentence of the excerpt, the writer wanted figures to serve as the subject, but that noun is stranded helplessly in the possessive adjective figures’. The result is that cuteness is forced against its will into the role of subject.
The cloying cuteness of the figures, who wear outsized heads, is subverted by sexy outfits: mermaids, miniskirts, latex. OR: Wearing outsized heads, the figures subvert their cloying cuteness with their sexy outfits: mermaids, miniskirts, latex. OR: Wearing outsized heads, the figures subvert their cloying cuteness by donning sexy outfits: mermaids, miniskirts, latex. [Some readers, of course, might still challenge the logic of the phrasing of the series that follows the colon; substituting mermaid suits for mermaids would help.]
Dangling modifiers often arise from a writer’s desire to be as concise as possible at any cost, as in this sentence from an article about a dancer who goes by the name Storyboard P:
Growing up, Storyboard’s best friend was a kid named Nelson Adolphus, who wanted to be a scientist. (New Yorker)
The two-word participial phrase growing up is intended to modify Storyboard, but Storyboard has been demoted from nounal status to adjectival status by dint of the clipped-on apostrophe and s. The participial phrase ends up modifying friend—at odds with the writer’s purpose. If we can assume that the best-friendship was reciprocated by Adolphus, it’s possible to rework the seventeen-word sentence without lengthening it by as much as a single word.
Growing up, Storyboard was best friends with Nelson Adolphus, a kid who wanted to be a scientist.
Another option, of course, is to enlarge the participial phrase into a dependent clause, thereby adding three words to the sentence.
When Storyboard was growing up, his best friend was a kid named Nelson Adolphus, who wanted to be a scientist. 
Dangling modifiers come in at least ten distinct varieties. The first, the sort found in the three New Yorker excerpts exhibited above, is a present-participial phrase. Following are more examples, which have been corrected by using one or both of the two strategies already mentioned or by recomposing the grammatically debilitated sentences in other ways.
Sitting at a pump organ with synthesizer playing behind him, the song was part lullaby, part hymn, totally musical, and going on for more than eight minutes, repeating again and again the words, “Dream, baby, dream.” (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury], by Louis P. Masur) [The sentence also needs to lose the comma after words, because the lyrics do not consist solely of “Dream, baby, dream” (see Chapter 67).]
Sitting at a pump organ with synthesizer playing behind him, he performed the song as part lullaby and part hymn, going on for more than eight minutes, repeating again and again the words “Dream, baby, dream.”
Basking in the false light of positive publicity, his view of himself finally coincided with that of the rest of the world. (American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century [Riverhead], by Paula Uruburu)
As he basked in the false light of positive publicity, his view of himself finally coincided with that of the rest of the world.
Walking along the Strand, the brim of his fedora curled at a stylish angle, his cigar sputtering like a tugboat, a trail of newspapermen listened open-mouthed to his criticism of his own country. (Mencken: The American Iconoclast [Oxford University Press], by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers)
Walking along the Strand, the brim of his fedora curled at a stylish angle, his cigar sputtering like a tugboat, he was trailed by newspapermen listening open-mouthed to his criticism of his own country.
Growing up, the dissonance between his family’s socialist ideals and America’s Russophobia led Mr. [Jeffrey] Lewis to a lifelong interest in Communism. (New York Times)
While Mr. Lewis was growing up, the dissonance between his family’s socialist ideals and America’s Russophobia led him to a lifelong interest in Communism.
[paragraph from an article] Ideas like his are not in short supply. The catch? No one has found a way to make a steady profit on an ed-tech startup. [beginning of next paragraph] Going back to the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, many have tried. (Wall Street Journal)
Since the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, many have tried. OR: As far back as the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, many have tried.
Reading through their diaries, it is hard to ignore the homoerotic aspects of their camping trip. (American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Deborah Solomon)
When you read through their diaries, it is hard to ignore the homoerotic aspects of their camping trip. OR: Reading through their diaries, one finds [OR: you will find] it hard to ignore the homoerotic aspects of their camping trip. OR: Anyone reading through their diaries will find it hard to ignore the homoerotic aspects of their camping trip. OR: Their diary accounts of their camping trip make the homoerotic aspects hard to ignore.
Talking to lonely people, it becomes clear that there might be legitimate reasons for them to “choose” to remain lonely: the state provides them with a muse, it gives them a degree of sensitivity and insight, and it’s the basis of the self that they’re used to. (Lonely: A Memoir [Harper], by Emily White)
When you talk to lonely people, it becomes clear that there might be legitimate reasons. . . . OR: Talk to lonely people, and it will become clear that there might be legitimate reasons. . . . OR: Talking to lonely people will make it clear to you that there might be legitimate reasons. . . .
Driving back to South Central, my mood was all melody. (New Yorker)
As I was driving back to South Central, my mood was all melody. OR: As I drove back to South Central, my mood was all melody. OR: Driving back to South Central, I was all melodious in mood.
The participle in such a dangling modifier often has a direct object.
Starring Liverpudlian actress Rita Tushingham, whose wide-eyed, plain-spoken persona briefly became a fixture of the UK screen industry, the film’s wry vision of sentimental self-sufficiency appealed strongly to McCartney. (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald)
Starring Liverpudlian actress Rita Tushingham, whose wide-eyed, plain-spoken persona briefly became a fixture of the UK screen industry, the film appealed strongly to McCartney because of its wry vision of sentimental self-sufficiency.
Contemplating this disaster, another popped into my head: What could I have been thinking, saying there were turnips with that tenderloin of lamb when any idiot could see that they were rutabagas? (Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise [Penguin], by Ruth Reichl)
As I contemplated this disaster, another popped into my head. . . . OR: Contemplating this disaster, I was seized by something even worse. . . .
She overhauled the autobiographical story about a mother and her adopted child that she had begun the previous summer as part of her novel. Having plundered a partial manuscript again, the novel no longer amounted to much. (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)
Having plundered a partial manuscript again, she felt that the novel no longer amounted to much.
Reading David Chierchetti’s Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer (HarperCollins, 2003) alongside The Dress Doctor (Little, Brown, 1959), by Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore, and How to Dress for Success (Random House, 1967), by Head and Joe Hyams, a consistent picture of Edith fades into view. (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman [Harper], by Sam Wasson)
As you read David Chierchetti’s Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer (HarperCollins, 2003) alongside The Dress Doctor (Little, Brown, 1959), by Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore, and How to Dress for Success (Random House, 1967), by Head and Joe Hyams, a consistent picture of Edith fades into view.
[about a Facebook page devoted to misbehavior in the Hamptons] Receiving a boost earlier this summer when The New York Post took notice, much of the site focuses on obnoxious parking (a Range Rover or a Hummer taking up two spaces in a crowded lot) or drunken conduct like that of a young man who was photographed asleep while sitting with his pants down on a toilet in the women’s room. (New York Times)
The New York Post took notice of the entire site, not just “much” of it.
Receiving a boost earlier this summer when The New York Post took notice, the site focuses mostly on obnoxious parking. . . .
Spitting, snarling and making Halloween-mask faces, her one-dimensional performance is as exaggerated as a Punch and Judy show, with members of the groaning audience wishing they were doing the punching. (New York Observer)
Spitting, snarling, and making Halloween-mask faces, she gives a one-dimensional performance as exaggerated as that in a Punch-and-Judy show. . . .
Unfortunately, because I live in a suburban town with scant Groupon coverage, too many of the offers are definitely disposable. For every deal that I could redeem with a 15-minute drive, there were at least two that required an hourlong trek. Factoring in the expense of gas, such offers usually weren’t much of a deal. (New York Times)
After I factored in the expense of gas, such offers usually weren’t much of a deal. OR: Once the expense of gas had been factored in, such offers usually weren’t much of a deal.
Greeting each other at the airport, Rob tells Sharon, “I was angry how much I missed you.” (New Yorker)
It takes two persons to greet each other, but the subject of the sentence names only one of them.
Greeting Sharon at the airport, Rob tells her, “I was angry how much I missed you.” OR: Greeting her at the airport, Rob tells her, “I was angry how much I missed you.” OR: As they greet each other at the airport, Rob tells Sharon, “I was angry how much I missed you.”
The second type of dangling modifier takes the form of a past-participial phrase.
Confronted with a corpse whose death she is arguably responsible for, her response is to poke at its cheeks with a “manicured toe” and feel for a pulse with her foot. (New Republic)
When she is confronted with a corpse whose death she is arguably responsible for, her response is to poke at its cheeks with a “manicured toe” and feel for a pulse with her foot. OR: Confronted with a corpse whose death she is arguably responsible for, she responds by poking at its cheeks with a “manicured toe” and feeling for a pulse with her foot. OR: Confronted with a corpse whose death she is arguably responsible for, she pokes at its cheeks with a “manicured toe” and feels for a pulse with her foot.
Heckled by men in the audience, [Jean] Malin’s back would arch, his chin lift in defiance. (Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969 [Viking], by William J. Mann)
When Malin was heckled by men in the audience, his back would arch, his chin lift in defiance.
Modeled somewhat on the Theatre Guild, the Film Guild’s goal was to break the chains of postwar schlock romanticism that fettered the movies to scripts like The Tents of Allah. (Louise Brooks [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
Modeled somewhat on the Theatre Guild, the Film Guild aspired to break the chains of postwar schlock romanticism. . . .
Used to the relatively quick turnaround of record production, the slow-moving nature of the movie business made him agitated, nervous, and bored. (The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood [Random House], by Tom King)
Because he was used to the relatively quick turnaround of record production, the slow-moving nature of the movie business made him agitated, nervous, and bored. OR: Used to the relatively quick turnaround of record production, he found that the slow-moving nature of the movie business left him agitated, nervous, and bored. OR: Used to the relatively quick turnaround of record production, he found himself agitated, nervous, and bored by the slow-moving nature of the movie business.
‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ highlighted the more experimental leanings of the band. Distilled from a squealing [John] Cale viola riff, [Lou] Reed quickly spits out his vocal, with Cale hissing in the background. (Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground [St. Martin’s], by Rob Jovanovic)
[with Americanized punctuation] “The Black Angel’s Death Song,” distilled from a squealing Cale viola riff, highlighted the more experimental leanings of the band: Reed quickly spits out his vocal, with Cale hissing in the background. OR [leaving the first sentence intact]: In a composition distilled from a squealing Cale viola riff, Reed quickly spits out his vocal, with Cale hissing in the background.
Information on the author was even less straightforward. Identified only by the pseudonym John David California, his biography consisted of his former employment as gravedigger and Ironman triathlete and described his first encounter with Salinger’s novel “in an abandoned cabin in rural Cambodia.” (J. D. Salinger: A Life [Random House], by Kenneth Slawenski)
Identified only by the pseudonym John David California, he was described in a biographical note as having worked as a gravedigger and having participated as an Ironman triathlete, and his first encounter with Salinger’s novel, he wrote, had been “in an abandoned cabin in rural Cambodia.”
Developed at Bell Laboratories in the thirties as a telecommunications aid, the vocoder’s potential as a musical device was first recognized, appropriately enough, by a German phonetics professor who attended a demonstration by the device’s inventor, Homer Dudley, at Bonn University. (The Rock Snob’s Dictionary [Broadway Books], by David Kamp and Steven Daly)
After the vocoder was developed at Bell Laboratories in the thirties as a telecommunications aid, its potential as a musical device was first recognized, appropriately enough, by a German phonetics professor who attended a demonstration by the device’s inventor, Homer Dudley, at Bonn University.
Brace yourself for the impact of this approaching tsunami [of] Radical Cheerleaders and ‘zine queens. Raised by the counterculture taboo-busters of the sixties and early seventies, their biggest fear in life is, naturally, being labeled namby-pamby or prrrrrrrissy [sic] by their own mothers. (Wacky Chicks: Life Lessons from Fearlessly Inappropriate and Fabulously Eccentric Women [Simon & Schuster], by Simon Doonan)
Raised by the counterculture taboo-busters of the sixties and early seventies, these young women naturally fear, more than anything else, being labeled namby-pamby or prrrrrrrissy by their own mothers.
Picked by Sir Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, to modernize Penguin’s fiction line, Godwin’s innovations astonished the London literary world and eventually led to a clash with Lane, who was alarmed by the far-reaching changes Godwin was making in one of Britain’s most respected cultural institutions, and more than a little jealous of the younger man as well. (Another Life: A Memoir of Other People [Random House], by Michael Korda)
Picked by Sir Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, to modernize Penguin’s fiction line, Godwin astonished the London literary world with his innovations, which eventually led to a clash with Lane. . . . OR: After Godwin was picked by Sir Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, to modernize Penguin’s fiction line, his innovations astonished the London literary world. . . .
In some ways, Dartmouth’s own history centers on the concept of identity. Founded in 1769 by a Congregational minister, Eleazar Wheelock, its initial mission was to educate the local Abenaki Indians, a dream that was never realized. (Rolling Stone)
When the college was founded, in 1769, by a Congregational minister, Eleazar Wheelock, its initial mission was to educate the local Abenaki Indians, a dream that was never realized.
Created by Matt Groening and overseen by Groening and producer David X. Cohen, Futurama’s consistent cleverness is remarkable when you consider its gypsy history. (New York)
That Futurama, created by Matt Groening and overseen by Groening and producer David X. Cohen, was consistently clever is all the more remarkable when you consider its gypsy history. OR: The consistent cleverness of Futurama, created by Matt Groening and overseen by Groening and producer David X. Cohen, is all the more remarkable when you consider the series’ gypsy history.
So the first chance they could, they booked seats on the Rockabus, which started offering nonstop rides to the Rockaways last June. Dubbed the “hipster jitney,” its return is yet another sign that Hurricane Sandy has done little to unseat the Rockaways as the go-to beach for fashionable Brooklynites and their ilk. (New York Times)
The return of the bus dubbed the “hipster jitney” is yet another sign. . . .
[about Ratking] Tagged straight out of the gate as the East Coast’s answer to Odd Future, this hip-hop crew’s frenetically paced rhymes and combination of dissonant effects and rapid beats can conjure other upstart acts. (New York Times)
Tagged straight out of the gate as the East Coast’s answer to Odd Future, this hip-hop crew favors frenetically paced rhymes and a combination of dissonant effects and rapid beats that can conjure other upstart acts.
In the world of music, Steinway is not just another company. Founded in 1853 by a German immigrant in Manhattan, Henry Engelhard Steinway, and his three sons, Steinway pianos became an icon in concert halls and living rooms. (New York Times)
In the world of music, Steinway—founded, in 1853, by a German immigrant in Manhattan, Henry Engelhard Steinway, and his three sons—is not just another company. Its pianos became an icon in concert halls and living rooms.
A subcategory is a dangling modifier consisting of a past-participial phrase formed from an irregular verb.
Born in Puducherry, India, Mr. Shyamalan’s parents moved to the U.S. when he was a child. (Wall Street Journal)
Even the mildly attentive reader is likely to do a double take: who was born in Puducherry, India—Mr. Shyamalan’s parents, as the sentence would have us believe, or Mr. Shyamalan himself? A minute’s worth of online fact-checking will yield the clarifying intelligence that it was Mr. Shyamalan who was born there.
Born in Puducherry, India, Mr. Shyamalan was a child when his parents moved their family to the U.S. OR: Born in Puducherry, India, Mr. Shyamalan moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was a child. OR: Mr. Shyamalan, who was born in Puducherry, India, moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was a child. OR: When he was a child, Mr. Shyamalan, who was born in Puducherry, India, moved to the U.S. with his parents.
Known for its aggressive litigiousness and scorched-earth public relations approach, the church’s latest target is The New Yorker, which in February published a 25,000-word article that painted Scientology as corrupt and cultish. (New York Times)
Known for its aggressive litigiousness and scorched-earth public-relations approach, the church has most recently targeted The New Yorker. . . .
Pamela Erens’s new novel, The Virgins (Tin House Books, 288 pp., $15.95), is one explicitly concerned with narrative. Set in 1979 at a New Hampshire boarding school called Auburn, its narrator, Bruce Bennett-Jones, confesses up-front that the story he’s unspooling—that of a highly visible and ultimately doomed romance between two students, a Korean-American man, Seung Jung, and a Jewish woman, Aviva Rossner—is largely one he has imagined. (New York Observer)
Pamela Erens’s new novel, The Virgins (Tin House Books, 288 pp., $15.95), set in 1979 at a New Hampshire boarding school called Auburn, is one explicitly concerned with narrative. Its narrator, Bruce Bennett-Jones, confesses up front. . . . OR: Set in 1979 at a New Hampshire boarding school called Auburn, the novel is narrated by Bruce Bennett-Jones, who confesses up front. . . .
Born into a huge, impoverished family in New Jersey in 1933, [Flip] Wilson’s early days were littered with deadbeat women. (Wall Street Journal)
Wilson was born, in 1933, into a huge, impoverished family in New Jersey, and his early days were littered with deadbeat women.
The single-minded Susan is absolved from choice. Driven by blind homesickness that has been the sole, bitter fruit of boarding-school, her homebound train races her to a country-woman’s groove. (Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life [Norton], by Lyndall Gordon)
Driven by blind homesickness that has been the sole, bitter fruit of boarding school, she boards [OR: takes] a homebound train that will speed her to a country-woman’s groove. [Might the writer have meant grove?
Another subcategory consists of one or more past participles dangling all by their lonesome.
Depressed, her mood degenerated into morbidity. (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)
Depressed, she felt her mood degenerate into morbidity.
Tired, bored, life no longer remained an adventure. (Mencken: The American Iconoclast [Oxford University Press], by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers)
Tired, bored, he no longer found life an adventure.
Yet another subcategory is a dangling modifier comprising one or more past participles followed by an adjectival phrase.
Disgusted, depressed, and pretty close to destitute, it was time to say farewell to Hollywood once and for all. (Louise Brooks [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
Disgusted, depressed, and pretty close to destitute, she knew it was time to say farewell to Hollywood once and for all.
A third variety of dangling modifier consists of a subordinating conjunction (such as while, when, after, once, and since) followed by a present- or past-participial phrase. (An adverb sometimes appears between the subordinating conjunction and the participial phrase.)
While gazing out the windows with a glass of Bordeaux and a plate of duck confit, it may feel as if you’re tucked away in a nook of St.-Germain-des-Prés. (New York Times)
While gazing out the windows with a glass of Bordeaux and a plate of duck confit, you may feel as if you’re tucked away in a nook of St.-Germain-des-Prés.
While pretending to be the newlywed of her society-painter husband, Mercedes’s emotional life was concentrated on Le Gallienne, who gave herself totally. (The Sewing Circle: Hollywood’s Greatest Secret—Female Stars Who Loved Other Women [Birch Lane Press], by Axel Madsen)
While Mercedes pretended to be the newlywed of her society-painter husband, her emotional life was concentrated on Le Gallienne. . . .
After graduating in 1958, Solanas’s life became more disjointed. (Weekly Standard)
After Solanas graduated, in 1958, her life became more disjointed.
After listening through a DAC [Digital-to-Analog Converter] for a few days, though, bass on the CD sounded a bit sloppy, so it is a matter of taste. (New York Times) [The sentence also suffers from an error in pronoun reference; see Chapter 35.]
After I listened through a DAC for a few days, though, bass on the CD sounded a bit sloppy. . . .
After appearing last year as the gay heartthrob on “Glee,” his career fell into place faster than you can say “Snooki.” (New York Times)
After he appeared last year as the gay heartthrob on Glee, his career fell into place faster than you can say “Snooki.”
Whether smeared and swirled across a white plate, stacked beneath a tower of flowers in a ceramic bowl, or strewn like debris atop the surface of a log, the way the food is laid out reflects an aspect of a chef’s craftsmanship that can be just as crucial as the ingredients in the dish. (New York Times)
Whether the food is smeared and swirled across a white plate, stacked beneath a tower of flowers in a ceramic bowl, or strewn like debris atop the surface of a log, the presentation reflects an aspect of a chef’s craftsmanship that can be just as crucial as the ingredients in the dish.
Once voted one of the “Left’s Top Twenty-five Journalists” by The Daily Beast and called by The Weekly Standard someone who “expresses cold disapproval” towards conservatives, Solomon’s own politics cloud her vision of Rockwell’s later years. (New Criterion)
Although Solomon was once voted one of the “Left’s Top Twenty-five Journalists” by The Daily Beast and dismissed by The Weekly Standard as a critic who “expresses cold disapproval” towards conservatives, her politics cloud her vision of Rockwell’s later years.
When asked about Razzano and her backstory, a look of consternation crossed Williams’s face. (New York Times)
When Williams was asked about Razzano and her backstory, a look of consternation crossed her face.
When finally cornered by the press on boarding the Kungsholm, Garbo’s simple dignity was moving: She was going to visit the grave of Mauritz Stiller, she said. (Garbo: A Biography [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
When Garbo was finally cornered by the press on boarding the Kungsholm, her simple dignity was moving. . . .
A dangling modifier in this category might also consist of only a subordinating conjunction and a participle.
When pressed, the only trait he’ll admit he finds alluring is humor. (New York)
When pressed, he’ll admit that the only trait he finds alluring is humor.
The participles in this third category of danglers might have direct objects.
While reading Book Three, my fever broke somewhat. (New York Times) [The direct object of the participle is Book Three.]
While I was reading Book Three, my fever broke somewhat. OR: While reading Book Three, I felt my fever break somewhat.
Since starting the company in 1997, Hastings’ goal has always been the same: to deliver the right content in the fastest and most economical way. (Wired) [The direct object of the participle is company.]
Since Hastings started the company, in 1997, his goal has always been the same. . . . OR: Since starting the company, in 1997, Hastings has always had the same goal. . . .
Once having fulfilled his sacred obligation, Buddy’s eyes are opened to the truth around him. (J. D. Salinger: A Life [Random House], by Kenneth Slawenski) [The direct object of the participle is obligation.]
Once Buddy has fulfilled his sacred obligation, his eyes are opened to the truth around him.
When using in-network providers, her deductible would nearly triple; out of network, it would more than quintuple. (Wall Street Journal) [The direct object of the participle is providers.]
When she used in-network providers, her deductible would nearly triple. . . .
While checking the proofs, a terrible suspicion crossed my mind. (The Art of The New Yorker, 1925-1995 [Knopf], by Lee Lorenz) [The direct object of the participle is proofs.]
While I was checking the proofs, a terrible suspicion crossed my mind. OR: While checking the proofs, I felt a terrible suspicion cross my mind.
When deciding what to cook at home, the Google Search comparisons feature, introduced last fall, can help chefs make menu decisions based on nutritional information. (New York Times) [The direct object of the participle is what to cook.]
When deciding what to cook at home, chefs can find helpful nutritional information on the Google Search comparisons feature, which was introduced last fall.
After eating squishy goat-cheese gnudi that were bursting with the flavor of warm New York City tap water and were buried under slices of prosciutto almost too thick to cut with a fork, only one remark came to mind: “How’s your steak?” (New York Times) [The direct object of the participle is gnudi.]
After I’d eaten squishy goat-cheese gnudi that were bursting with the flavor of warm New York City tap water and were buried under slices of prosciutto almost too thick to cut with a fork, only one remark came to mind: “How’s your steak?”
Gustafson’s stutter is more pronounced in some situations than in others. When delivering one-liners, conferring with her caddie during competition or conversing in her native tongue, Gustafson’s speech tends to be as fluid as her swing. (New York Times) [The direct object of the participle is one-liners.]
When delivering one-liners, conferring with her caddie during competition, or conversing in her native tongue, Gustafson tends to be as fluid in her speech as she is in her swing.
Truman’s intense feeling for Marilyn survives in “A Beautiful Child” from Music for Chameleons (Random House, 1975). After reading the piece, she ends up looking a lot like Holly. (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman [Harper], by Sam Wasson) [The direct object of the participle is piece.]
After you read the piece, she ends up looking a lot like Holly.
Once assured he’s a Good Samaritan instead of a Don Juan, her personality undergoes a complete change. (Garbo: A Biography [Knopf], by Barry Paris) [The direct object of the participle is the nominative dependent clause he’s a Good Samaritan instead of a Don Juan, with an implied that at its start.]
Once assured he’s a Good Samaritan instead of a Don Juan, she undergoes a complete personality change.
A fourth sort of dangling modifier consists of a participial phrase preceded by an adverb, by one or more prepositional phrases functioning adverbially, by some other sort of phrase functioning adverbially, or by a coordinating conjunction such as but, yet, or and.
[about the book The Decisive Moment, by Henri Cartier-Bresson] First published in 1952, [Gerhard] Steidl reprinted it two years ago. (New Yorker)
The book was first published in 1952, and Steidl reprinted it two years ago.
Now, glancing at the salmon head, it was nothing but the head of a dead fish. (The Men’s Club [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Leonard Michaels)
Now, as I glanced at the salmon head, it was nothing but the head of a dead fish. OR: Now I glanced at the salmon head, and it was nothing but the head of a dead fish. OR: Now, glancing at the salmon head, I saw nothing but the head of a dead fish.
Now residing in San Francisco, her work continues to reflect her time in Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh magazine)
Now that she lives in San Francisco, her work continues to reflect her time in Pittsburgh. OR: Although she now lives in San Francisco, her work continues to reflect her time in Pittsburgh.
Even walking next to the dead girl’s mother less than a week later, supporting her in the unbelieving caisson march from the family home on Riverdale Avenue to the Catholic church across the street, her drape was stunning. (You Call It Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon [Villard], by Lenny Kaye)
Even as she walked next to the dead girl’s mother less than a week later, supporting her in the unbelieving caisson march from the family home on Riverdale Avenue to the Catholic church across the street, her drape was stunning. [Readers are likely to be dissatisfied with the writer’s decision to modify the noun march with the participle unbelieving; perhaps the writer wanted readers to understand that the marchers were disbelievers.]
Even surrounded by people, her anxieties often overwhelmed her despite the Ativan that her doctors insisted she begin taking. (Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir [Simon & Schuster], by David Rieff)
Even when she was surrounded by people, her anxieties often overwhelmed her. . . . OR: Even surrounded by people, she was often overwhelmed by her anxieties. . . .
Ten years later, sitting in a solicitor’s office on a noisy main road in north London, my maternalism did indeed seem primitive to me, almost barbaric. (Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Rachel Cusk)
Ten years later, while I was sitting in a solicitor’s office on a noisy main road in north London, my maternalism did indeed seem primitive to me, almost barbaric.
One day, walking past the florist’s with a friend, we stop. (Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Rachel Cusk)
The dangling modifier in this sentence is unusually disorienting, because the context makes it clear that only two persons are present. Only one of them can thus be walking past the florist’s with a friend; the other person is the friend.
One day, as I’m walking past the florist’s with a friend, we stop.
A similar error afflicts the following sentence, in which a man and a woman are walking, but the participial phrase walking through the rustic streets of a nearby village modifies the name of only the woman.
Later, walking through the rustic streets of a nearby village, Celine tells Jesse, “If you were meeting me for the first time today, you wouldn’t notice me.” (reason.com)
Later, as the couple are walking through the rustic streets of a nearby village, Celine tells Jesse, “If you were meeting me for the first time today, you wouldn’t notice me.”
And in 1999, I took my son, then twelve, to his first show (the night he was born, racing to the hospital, “Thunder Road” came on the radio). (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury], by Louis P. Masur)
(the night he was born, as I was racing to the hospital, “Thunder Road” came on the radio). OR: (as I was racing to the hospital on the night he was born, “Thunder Road” came on the radio).
Yet, reflecting on the episode, Thernstrom’s main concern was not irate students, but the lack of support he received from Harvard. (Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus [Free Press], by Dinesh D’Souza)
Yet, reflecting on the episode, Thernstrom was concerned not so much with irate students as with the lack of support he received from Harvard. OR: Yet, as Thernstrom reflected on the episode, his main concern was not irate students but the lack of support he received from Harvard.
And yet, rereading the booklet some two years after my mother’s death, these undoubted good intentions seem essentially compromised by the refusal to write as if bad news were bad news and despair despair. (Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir [Simon & Schuster], by David Rieff)
And yet, as I reread the booklet some two years after my mother’s death, these undoubted good intentions seem essentially compromised. . . .
A fifth kind of dangling modifier consists of a participial phrase preceded by the combination of (1) an adverb or an adverbial phrase and (2) a subordinating conjunction.
One weekend, while still mulling over whether to stay close to home or set sail for distant malls, a bright fluorescent light went on in my head. (Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep On Buying No Matter What [Free Press], by Lee Eisenberg)
One weekend, while I was still mulling over whether to stay close to home or set sail for distant malls, a bright fluorescent light went on in my head.
Still, after seeing this film, it’s hard not to want to work on your spin move. (New York Times)
Still, after seeing this film, you’ll find it hard to resist working on your spin move. OR: Still, after seeing this film, you’ll most likely want to work on your spin move.
A sixth type of dangling modifier consists of a simple prepositional phrase.
As a feminist, it’s hard not to wince at some of the assertions Mel and his fellow MRAs make. (theatlantic.com)
As a feminist, I find it hard not to wince at some of the assertions Mel and his fellow MRAs make.
As a young man, his ramps starred in a cult video. Now he designs skateboard parks across the country. (Wall Street Journal)
When he was a young man, his ramps starred in a cult video. OR: He was still a young man when his ramps starred in a cult video.
At age forty-eight, her prolonged apprenticeship was finally completed. (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
When she was forty-eight, her prolonged apprenticeship was finally completed. OR: Not until she was forty-eight did she finally complete her prolonged apprenticeship.
I go to London to meet my brother. At the sight of me his face slackens. (Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Rachel Cusk)
It is the brother, and not his face, who sees the writer.
As soon as he catches sight of me, his face slackens. OR: No sooner does he see me than his face slackens.
The prepositional phrase will sometimes be preceded by an adverb or an adverbial phrase.
After all, at 16, the future can seem only so clear—and there’s nothing wrong with just being a teenager. (Time) [Feeling uneasy about the positioning of just? See Chapter 22.]
Since she is only sixteen, after all, the future can seem only so clear—and there’s nothing wrong with being just a teenager.
When out on a date, whether the first or fifth, there are certain laws of decorum that must be strictly adhered to. (The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum [Broadway Books], by Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh)
When you’re out on a date, whether the first or fifth, there are certain laws of decorum to which you must strictly adhere.
A seventh kind of dangling modifier is a more complicated prepositional phrase, in which the preposition has a gerund as its object.
By going with Comcast for high-speed Internet, Ooma for phone and Dish for television, my bill could be as low as $200 a month with the promotional prices I have been quoted. (New York Times)
If I go with Comcast for high-speed Internet, Ooma for phone, and Dish for television, my bill could be as low as $200 a month. . . . OR: Going with Comcast for high-speed Internet, Ooma for phone, and Dish for television, I could reduce my bill to as little as $200 a month. . . .
In writing about Born to Run, the photographs are almost as memorable as the music. (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury], by Louis P. Masur)
In writing about Born to Run, I’ve found the photographs almost as memorable as the music.
Upon arriving at a restaurant where she’d made reservations, her infallible radar informed her whether the press had been alerted and, if so, she would immediately order her chauffeur to drive away. (Garbo: A Biography [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
When she arrived at a restaurant where she’d made reservations, her infallible radar informed her. . . .
The gerund sometimes has one or more direct objects.
By restricting daily net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), the hope is that our bodies will burn fat instead. (Wired) [The direct object of the gerund is carbs.]
By restricting daily net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), we hope that our bodies will burn fat instead.
By pushing the button an amber glow was cast about the inverted mirror overhead. (American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century [Riverhead], by Paula Uruburu) [The direct object of the gerund is button.]
With the push of a button, an amber glow was cast about the inverted mirror overhead. OR: Pushing the button cast an amber glow about the inverted mirror overhead.
By paying careful attention to the wine in an atmosphere that emphasizes curiosity and pleasure, the hope is to achieve a greater sense of ease and confidence and a better understanding of our own tastes. (New York Times) [The direct object of the gerund is attention.]
By paying careful attention to the wine in an atmosphere that emphasizes curiosity and pleasure, we hope to achieve a greater sense of ease and confidence and a better understanding of our own tastes.
In choosing to broadcast one man’s views, to be an individual and to invite dissent, Morgan’s approach was a deliberate rebuttal to Goebbels’s plan for broadcasting. (A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Wendy Moffat) [The three infinitive phrases following the gerund choosing are its direct objects.]
Morgan’s approach—choosing to broadcast one man’s views, to be an individual, and to invite dissent—was a deliberate rebuttal of Goebbels’s plan for broadcasting.
Far from abandoning the fastidiousness of their parents, the new generation’s fastidiousness is so acute that its members see through all established forms, understand how they fail, and find in their new freedoms a better way to preserve an exclusivity they continue to value. (The Comic Worlds of Peter Arno, William Steig, Charles Addams, and Saul Steinberg [Johns Hopkins University Press], by Iain Topliss)
Far from abandoning the fastidiousness of their parents, the new generation has perfected a fastidiousness so acute that its members see through and understand the failure of every established form and find in their new freedoms a better way to preserve an exclusivity they continue to value.
An eighth category of dangling modifiers consists of hybrid constructions in which a subordinating conjunction is followed by an adjectival phrase.
[the uppercasing has been retained from the source] Though capable of being as forbiddingly arty as contemporaries Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and TELEVISION—early albums were entitled The Modern Dance and Song of the Bailing Man, and Thomas’s liner notes for the 1994 album Raygun Suitcase include the sentence “We live in strange times wherein Order and Meaning are terror-osterized, reduced to grist for the post-modernist vacuumizer”—Pere Ubu’s pretensions are mitigated by its primal rhythms, sense of humor, and Thomas’s engaging fat-guy wail. (The Rock Snob’s Dictionary [Broadway Books], by David Kamp and Steven Daly) [The final independent clause also suffers from faulty parallelism (see Chapter 41), and the sentence is also weakened by a multitasking dash (see Chapter 84).]
This sentence demonstrates that the longer the distance from the subject, the more likely an introductory modifier will flail.
Though Pere Ubu was capable of being as forbiddingly arty as contemporaries Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and TELEVISION (early albums were entitled The Modern Dance and Song of the Bailing Man, and Thomas’s liner notes for the 1994 album Raygun Suitcase include the sentence “We live in strange times wherein Order and Meaning are terror-osterized, reduced to grist for the post-modernist vacuumizer”), the band’s pretensions were mitigated by its primal rhythms, its sense of humor, and Thomas’s engaging fat-guy wail.
A ninth kind of dangling modifier is a nonparticipial adjectival phrase.
Seven years in the making, the sculpture’s strange balance of power and vulnerability, stillness and emotion, carries more than a hint of the complex relationship between Ray and Pastor. (New Yorker)
The sculpture was seven years in the making, and its strange balance of power and vulnerability, stillness and emotion, carries more than a hint of the complex relationship between Ray and Pastor.
Already disdainful of literary critics, his opinion quickly turned to disgust. (J. D. Salinger: A Life [Random House], by Kenneth Slawenski)
Because he was already disdainful of literary critics, his opinion quickly turned to disgust.
When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked a substantive question—whether Ms. Davis thinks 20 weeks is an unreasonable limit on abortion—she replied in part that some women don’t even know they’re pregnant at 20 weeks. Really? Though surely rare, this observation is utterly irrelevant. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Though such cases are surely rare, her observation is utterly irrelevant.
“Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater’s third film about the relationship between an American man (Ethan Hawke) and French woman (Julie Delpy), closes with what might be the series’ piece de resistance: a 30-minute hotel-room argument between the couple. Brutal and witty, the power dynamic shifts back and forth between the pair, as one grabs the upper hand and the other snatches it back. (Los Angeles Times)
It’s the argument, not the power dynamic, that is brutal and witty.
Before Midnight, Richard Linklater’s third film about the relationship between an American man (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman (Julie Delpy), closes with what might be the series’ pièce de résistance: a brutal and witty thirty-minute hotel-room argument between the couple. The power dynamic shifts back and forth between Celine and Jesse, as one grabs the upper hand and the other snatches it back.
 Sometimes the dangling adjectival phrase might be preceded by a prepositional phrase.
In 1919, young and unproved, their goal had been to have it all—love, money, fame, and happiness. (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)
In 1919, when they were still young and unproved, their goal had been to have it all—love, money, fame, and happiness. OR: In 1919, young and unproved, they set their sights on having it all—love, money, fame, and happiness.
And sometimes the dangling adjectival phrasing might comprise a mix of adjectival elements, such as stand-alone adjectives, lone participles, and adjectival prepositional phrases.
Small, rail-thin, sharp-featured, with an engaging smile, a full head of wiry gray hair—a kind of Anglo-Welsh “afro”—and bright, sparkling eyes, Godwin’s greatest asset was his charm. (Another Life: A Memoir of Other People [Random House], by Michael Korda)
Small, rail-thin, sharp-featured, with an engaging smile, a full head of wiry gray hair—a kind of Anglo-Welsh “afro”—and bright, sparkling eyes, Godwin had charm, and that was his greatest asset.
Comfortable, well-fed, and obviously intelligent, their conspicuous embitterment with and alienation from American society were hard to comprehend. (Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus [Free Press], by Dinesh D’Souza)
These comfortable, well-fed, and obviously intelligent students’ conspicuous embitterment with and alienation from American society were hard to comprehend. OR: It was hard to comprehend that these comfortable, well-fed, and obviously intelligent students were conspicuously embittered with and alienated from American society.
 A tenth variety of dangling modifiers consists of miscellaneous hybrid constructions.
All but written off as a has-been a few years ago, [Tom] Cruise’s career has rebounded. (Forbes)
All but written off as a has-been a few years ago, Cruise has enjoyed a career resurgence.
Instead of building a tight plot, neatly placing before us the fate of each character, a faceless crowd of individuals pass through the pages. (Introduction to Oxford [University Press] World Classics edition of Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room)
Instead of building a tight plot, neatly placing before us the fate of each character, Woolf releases a faceless crowd of individuals to pass through the pages.
Desperately uncertain which suitor she should ultimately choose, Marion’s letter to Estelle revealed the extent of her anguish: “I never pretended to cease loving him. . . .” (Mencken: The American Iconoclast [Oxford University Press], by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers)
Desperately uncertain of which suitor she should ultimately choose, Marion revealed the extent of her anguish in a letter to Estelle. . . .
The summer of 1975, home from college, my father would ask, “What do you want to be?” (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury], by Louis P. Masur)
The summer of 1975, when I was home from college, my father would ask, “What do you want to be?”
A few minutes later, after delivering the requisite invitation for my mother to come back and see him [Dr. A.] after she had thought through what she wanted to do next—I remember finding that word, “wanted,” particularly grotesque—we left. (Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir [Simon & Schuster], by David Rieff) [Many editors would insist that the commas surrounding “wanted” should vanish; see Chapter 66.]
A few minutes later, after Dr. A delivered the requisite invitation for my mother to come back and see him after she had thought through what she wanted to do next (I remember finding the word “wanted” particularly grotesque), we left.
“Always promising vastly more than it delivered, the magazine’s articles left one with the intellectual equivalent of a hangover.” (Joseph Epstein, writing about Vanity Fair [when it was edited by Tina Brown], cited from the Times Literary Supplement, in Some Times in America and a Life in a Year at the New Yorker [Carroll & Graf], by Alexander Chancellor)
Because the magazine always promised vastly more than it delivered, the articles left one with the intellectual equivalent of a hangover. OR: Always promising more than they delivered, the magazine’s articles left one with the intellectual equivalent of a hangover.
Only too aware of how neglected Nick felt during his lifetime, their [his parents’] joy in the lasting, even escalating, interest in his music was heartfelt. (Nick Drake [Bloomsbury], by Patrick Humphries)
Only too aware of how neglected Nick had felt during his lifetime, they felt joy in their hearts over the lasting, even escalating, interest in his music.
Two years younger than O’Hara and a member of the Harvard class of 1929, Outerbridge’s great interest was sailing. (The O’Hara Concern: A Biography of John O’Hara [Random House], by Matthew J. Bruccoli)
In this hybrid, the dangler consists of two nonparallel elements: an adjectival phrase and a noun phrase.
Two years younger than O’Hara, Outerbridge, a member of the Harvard class of 1929, had no greater interest than in sailing.
A dangling modifier most often appears at the start of a sentence, but it might also show up midway.
She brushes him off abruptly; but then, driving home, her thoughts go back to their meeting. (John O’Hara: A Study of the Short Fiction [Twayne], by Steven Goldleaf)
She brushes him off abruptly; but then, as she drives home, her thoughts go back to their meeting. OR: She brushes him off abruptly; but then, driving home, she thinks back to their meeting.
A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission. (New York Times)
A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now that she’s twenty-one, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit. . . .
One evening Ed Landberg heard Pauline broadcasting on KPFA, and after telephoning to compliment her on the program, they arranged to meet. (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
One evening, Ed Landberg heard Pauline broadcasting on KPFA, and after he telephoned to compliment her on the program, they arranged to meet.
(Sparkle doesn’t demand much emotional involvement, but in watching [Whitney] Houston’s portrayal, it’s impossible not to see the late singer’s own real-life struggles.) (Pittsburgh City Paper)
(Sparkle doesn’t demand much emotional involvement, but in watching Houston’s portrayal, you’ll find it impossible not to see the late singer’s own real-life struggles.)
Finally, a dangling modifier might appear at the end of a sentence.
Her collections now come together in a sort of magpie manner, finding shiny bits of inspiration wherever she goes. (Wall Street Journal)
Her collections now come together in a sort of magpie manner, because she finds shiny bits of inspiration wherever she goes.
Yet there is no further mention [in the book] of anything done by Straus that can be called editing, leaving to others in the firm the “care and feeding” of chosen FSG authors. (New Republic)
Yet there is no further mention of anything Straus did that can be called editing, the “care and feeding” of chosen FSG authors having been left to others in the firm. OR: Yet there is no further mention of anything Straus did that can be called editing, because the “care and feeding” of chosen FSG authors was left to others in the firm.  
Of those [American-made garments], the most promising was a blazer the color of dark oatmeal in a linen-silk-polyester blend ($950), but the sleeve lining was stitched in loosely and began to come undone after trying the jacket on just twice. (New York Times)
. . . but the sleeve lining was stitched in loosely and began to come undone after I had tried the jacket on just twice.
But Pinault’s focus was on building a conglomerate. Through shrewd deal-making, he spun his group into a timber-trading firm, then invested in African distribution and shipping, Paris’s Printemps department stores and a home electronics chain. In 1999, he pounced on Italian fashion house Gucci. That provided the foundation for the business—which, in June, is changing its name from PPR to Kering—as it currently stands, having sold off its other entities to focus on luxury and sports lifestyle brands including Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and Puma. (Wall Street Journal)
That provided the foundation for the business—which, in June, is changing its name from PPR to Kering—as it currently stands, now that he has sold off its other entities to focus on luxury and sports lifestyle brands including Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, and Puma.
Lanza took her son to shooting ranges so they could hone their skills together. She was Adam Lanza’s first victim on Friday, fatally shooting her before continuing the bloodshed at Sandy Hook Elementary. (New York Post)
She was Adam Lanza’s first victim on Friday, shot fatally before the bloodshed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Even his victory speech on that epic night was, except for its opening sentence—“First of all, I want to thank God for his abundant grace,” which, amazingly enough, seemed to be wholly sincere—meandering, unable to name and put forward what had really happened. (Wall Street Journal) [The sentence also suffers from a multitasking dash (see Chapter 84), as well as the remoteness of the adjectival complement, meandering, from the subject of the independent clause.]
Except for its opening sentence (“First of all, I want to thank God for his abundant grace,” which, amazingly enough, seemed to be wholly sincere), even his victory speech on that epic night was meandering, because he was unable to pinpoint and explain what had really happened.
The days when people snapped open the daily paper to find out the things they should care about were long past, replaced by a cacophony of information sources, many of them far more driven by ideology than The Washington Post. (New York Times)
People no longer snapped open the daily paper to find out the things they should care about, but instead were assaulted by a cacophony of information sources, many of them far more driven by ideology than The Washington Post.
 

 ^^  21

Based on the title of this chapter, I still have a lot to learn.
 
Based on something a friend told me, my decision not to move to Brooklyn seems reasonable; based on what I’ve been reading about the economy, my reservations about making a career change at my age seem prudent; and based on what I remember of my childhood fears of the Goodyear blimp, my aversion to attending air shows makes perfect sense. So far, so good. But if I then go ahead and say that based on what I’ve heard about the forthcoming Morrissey CD, I don’t think I’ll buy it, my grammar and syntax and logic are shot to hell.
      Why? It’s simple, or at least it should be. If I am going to start a sentence with based on X, then the comma has to be followed by a subject that names whatever it is that X is the basis of. The subject cannot get away with naming something for which X can’t serve as the foundation. In the first three examples in the paragraph above, a decision is based on something a friend told me, reservations are based on something I’ve read, and an aversion is based on something I remember. But in the fourth example, I am based on what I’ve heard about a yet-to-be-released CD. I can be accused of many things, but being based on something I’ve heard is not one of them.
      A sentence starting with based on can easily go haywire.
But based on the results of observational studies that had been published, many physicians, herself included, believed that the drugs’ ostensible ability to reduce heart attacks and perhaps Alzheimer’s would outweigh a breast cancer risk, she says. (New York Times)
The sentence is blithely declaring that many physicians are based on results—a statement that doesn’t accord with the reality of health-care practitioners based on planet Earth.
Based on the results of the models’ simulation of the climate, he said, “I would have expected the warming to be largest at the surface,” but instead, “we see a certain pattern of temperature change that doesn’t particularly agree with most of the current models.” (New York Times)
This sentence is asking readers to believe that the fellow referred to by the pronoun he is based on the results of some models’ simulation of the climate.
Now, based on projected population growth, he estimates that the district has an adequate supply until about 2040. (Star-Telegram [Fort Worth, Texas])
Here, a man is based on projected population growth.
Based on the album and subsequent live performances, the energy level of the band hasn’t abated one bit, and the leader’s keen historical awareness continues to color his stouthearted improvisations. (New Yorker)
This sentence tells the reader that the energy level of a jazz band is based on an album and live performances—and not, say, on stamina resulting from grueling practice sessions, plenty of exercise, and a sound diet.
      In each of the four excerpts, the subject of the independent clause doesn’t identify anything that is based on the nouns serving as the objects of the prepositions in the introductory based on phrasing—namely, results, growth, and album and performances.      
      Making sense out of any such sentence usually involves demolishing the based on phrasing and building part of the sentence anew.
Trainum searched for more evidence, and got the logbook of the shelter where Kimberly had been staying. Based on when she had signed in and out, he didn’t see how Kimberly could have taken part in the murder—she’d been inside the shelter during the critical times. (New Yorker)
Having looked at the record of when she had signed in and out, he didn’t see how Kimberly could have taken part in the murder. . . . OR: Having noted when she had signed in and out, he didn’t see how Kimberly could have taken part in the murder. . . . OR: Aware now of when she had signed in and out, he didn’t see how Kimberly could have taken part in the murder. . . . OR: One look at the record of when she had signed in and out led him to question how Kimberly could have taken part in the murder. . . .
Based on the results of that test, the company decided to accept the three [credit] cards in all of its 1,800 stores. (New York Times)
Having reviewed the results of that test, the company decided to accept the three cards in all of its 1,800 stores.
Based on the survey results, the F.T.C. estimates that in the last 12 months 3.23 million consumers discovered that new accounts had been opened, and that other frauds such as renting an apartment or home, obtaining medical care or gaining employment had been committed in their name. (New York Times)
The survey results have led the F.T.C. to estimate that in the last twelve months, 3.23 million consumers discovered that new accounts had been opened. . . .
Based on the available data, the JAMA authors conclude, doctors “should not” recommend injection therapy to their patients with chronic low back pain. (New York Times)
The JAMA authors have concluded from the available data that doctors “should not” recommend injection therapy to their patients with chronic low-back pain.
Based on our current in-state tuition rates, students pay approximately $50 per class to watch my lectures, and what they receive in return is my absolute best effort to capture and hold their attention. (theatlantic.com)
With our current in-state tuition rates, students pay approximately fifty dollars per class to watch my lectures. . . .
Based on declining enrollment and budget figures, some staff have been laid off. (Times-Dispatch [Richmond, Virginia])
Some staff members have been laid off because of declining enrollment and budget figures. OR: Declining enrollment and budget figures have resulted in the layoffs of some staff members.
Based on his findings, a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. (New York Times)
According to his findings, a two-thousand-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day. . . . OR: His findings indicate that a two-thousand-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day. . . .
Based on the media coverage of the crisis, he’d expected to see squalor, amputees, wailing children. (New Yorker)
Because of the media coverage of the crisis, he’d expected to see squalor, amputees, wailing children. OR: The media coverage of the crisis led him to believe he’d be seeing squalor, amputees, wailing children.
 

 ^^  22

In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time 
 
In the crowd of words in a sentence, it’s easy for a descriptive word or word-group to get separated from the word it wants to describe. The inevitable and unfortunate fate of the word or word-group that wanders off is that it ends up in the company of another word, a word with which it simply doesn’t belong. The errant word or word-group tries its best to work its descriptive powers on its new companion, and what happens next is sometimes comical but more often just plain annoying. Either way, the intended meaning of the sentence gets distorted, and everybody loses.
      The descriptive word or word-group that has lost its place in the sentence is called a misplaced modifier. The single-word modifiers most frequently misplaced are only, merely, just, and not. If the misplaced modifier is a word-group, it can be a prepositional phrase, a participial phrase, an adjectival dependent clause, or an adverbial dependent clause.  
      Whenever a modifier isn’t positioned right next to the word it’s intended to describe, you need to bring the two together. Luckily, that’s not difficult to do. It’s often just a matter of nudging the misplaced modifier either forward or backward in the sentence so that it ends up beside the word it wants to modify. (Some further but minor reconstruction of the sentence is occasionally needed as well.)
      The misplaced modifier in each of the following excerpts is underlined and takes the form of a phrase or a dependent clause.
Scientists have been trying to determine why people need sleep for more than 100 years. (New York Times)
Most people get by on six hours or fewer each night.
For more than a hundred years, scientists have been trying to determine why people need sleep.  
Emile, a veterinarian cited in Ms. [Helen] Smith’s chapter on paternity fraud, engaged in oral sex with a nurse named Debra while wearing a condom—and then discovered that Debra had used the condom’s contents to make him a father. (Wall Street Journal)
The nurse had a different name when she wasn’t wearing a condom? And why was she the one wearing the condom?
While wearing a condom, Emile, a veterinarian cited in Ms. Smith’s chapter on paternity fraud, engaged in oral sex with a nurse named Debra—and then discovered that Debra had used the condom’s contents to make him a father. OR: Emile, a veterinarian cited in Ms. Smith’s chapter on paternity fraud, wore a condom while engaging in oral sex with a nurse named Debra. . . .
Dr. Clifford noted that milk did not transmit bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name for mad cow disease. He expressed confidence in the health of the nation’s cattle and the safety of beef during a press briefing in Washington. (New York Times)
It sounds as if Dr. Clifford could assure his listeners that the cows would be in fine fettle and the beef would remain edible for only as long as the press briefing lasted. After that, there could be no guarantees.
During a press briefing in Washington, he expressed confidence in the health of the nation’s cattle and the safety of beef.
[the body in question is that of a cow] The body will remain at the rendering facility and will be disposed of once the agency completes its investigation, probably by incineration or some other method that ensures the destruction of its tissues. (New York Times)
Let’s hope that what the writer intended to say was that the disposal of the body, and not the completion of the investigation, would involve incineration or some other annihilative procedure.
The body will remain at the rendering facility and will be disposed of—probably by incineration or some other method that ensures the destruction of its tissues—once the agency completes its investigation.  
Storyboard once told an interviewer that, for a time, he developed choreography by sitting alone and staring at a wall until it came to resemble a projecting screen for strange, imagined shapes; he would then attempt to replicate what he was seeing with his body. (New Yorker)
Storyboard was seeing with his eyes, though, and not with his body.
. . . he would then attempt to use his body to replicate what he was seeing. OR: . . . he would then attempt to replicate with his body what he was seeing.
It [“Is Your Town Nineveh?”] was the first of many poems she wrote over the course of her career about freedom, both personal and political. (Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by Linda Leavell)
What the writer means is that the poem itself, and not the career of the poet who wrote it, is about freedom, both personal and political.
It was the first of many poems she wrote about freedom, both personal and political, over the course of her career. OR: It was the first of many poems about freedom, both personal and political, that she wrote over the course of her career.
The company will announce a new service for small businesses on Wednesday called OfferLink Local, allowing those businesses to connect a customer’s credit or debit card to a merchant’s own discounts. (New York Times)
There are only two ways to take that sentence: either the new service will be offered to businesses that happen to be small on Wednesday, or the name of the new service will be called OfferLink Local on Wednesday and then be rechristened the day after. Neither is what the writer intended to say.  
      Repositioning on Wednesday, though, leaves the sentence with another misplaced modifier:
On Wednesday, the company will announce a new service for small businesses called OfferLink Local, allowing those businesses to connect a customer’s credit or debit card to a merchant’s own discounts.  
It is the service, not the small businesses, that is called OfferLink Local.
On Wednesday, the company will unveil OfferLink Local, a new service enabling small retailers to connect customers’ credit or debit cards to the merchants’ own discounts.  
In 1973, the Band, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers were the triple bill for the Watkins Glen festival, which drew 600,000 people to upstate New York—larger than Woodstock. (New York Times)
Is it news to any reader that upstate New York is larger than Woodstock, a town of fewer than six thousand souls? The fact that the phrase larger than Woodstock is set off dramatically with a dash makes it seem as if the reader is expected to regard the news as a very big deal indeed. The writer, though, obviously intended the sentence to say something considerably different.
In 1973, the Band, the Grateful Dead, and the Allman Brothers were the triple bill for the Watkins Glen festival, which, larger than Woodstock, drew six hundred thousand people to upstate New York.
Some women have spoken openly about how their claims of assault have not been taken seriously. Kerry Barrett, a senior, said she was assaulted by a fellow student who was not an athlete as she slept at his home. (New York Times)
In a way, of course, this sentence does ring true: the fellow student was definitely not an athlete while Ms. Barrett slept at his home; he was a lout and a predator. More likely, though, the writer meant something entirely different.
Kerry Barrett, a senior, said she that as she slept at the home of a fellow student who was not an athlete, he assaulted her.
[the man in question is the humorist Robert Benchley, who died in New York] When she was notified of his death in Hollywood, Dorothy cried out, “That’s dandy!” (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)
When she was notified in Hollywood of his death, Dorothy cried out, “That’s dandy!” OR: When, in Hollywood, she was notified of his death, Dorothy cried out, “That’s dandy!”
She lost no time in sending him a dozen of the most expensive roses she could buy with a note of abject apology. (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? [Penguin], by Marion Meade)
She bought the roses with money, or with the equivalent of money, but not with an apologetic note.
She lost no time in sending him a dozen of the most expensive roses she could buy, along with a note of abject apology.
The police had come to Hernandez’s home because they had discovered the keys to a rental car leased to him on Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body, which was found in an industrial park near Hernandez’s home. (New York Times)
A car had been leased to one man on another man’s corpse?
The police had come to Hernandez’s home because of the rental-car keys they had discovered on Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body, which was found in an industrial park near Hernandez’s home. The car had been leased to Hernandez.
Samsung Electronics Co. is planning to launch a new eight-inch tablet and a new smartphone built to withstand harsh environments this summer, boosting the company’s large roster of products with several devices designed to appeal to business and government clients. (Wall Street Journal)
The new devices have been designed to withstand harsh environments not just for a season but for the whole year long.
This summer, Samsung Electronics Co. is planning to launch a new eight-inch tablet and a new smartphone built to withstand harsh environments. . . .
Rarely have I rooted for a monster with such enthusiasm. (New York Times)
The reviewer tends to prefer only apathetic and undemonstrative monsters?
Rarely have I rooted with such enthusiasm for a monster.
Amazon Fire TV retails (on Amazon) for $99. You’ll need Prime membership to make best use of it, which also costs $99, annually. (Newsweek)
To make the best use of it, you’ll need Prime membership, which also costs $99 annually.  
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who admitted to killing 13 unarmed people at Fort Hood nearly four years ago, was sentenced to death by lethal injection by a jury on Wednesday, becoming one of only a handful of men on military death row. (New York Times)
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who admitted to killing thirteen unarmed people nearly four years ago at Fort Hood, was on Wednesday sentenced by a jury to death by lethal injection, becoming one of only a handful of men on military death row.
When pressed to think about her childhood in later life, Evelyn said that the happy times seemed few and far between; they existed for her as if in a dream. . . . (American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century [Riverhead], by Paula Uruburu)
When pressed in later life to think about her childhood. . . .
There was a toy train for children running around the water park [at Heritage USA], and having nothing better to do I decided to take a ride on it. (Some Times in America and a Life in a Year at the New Yorker [Carroll & Graf], by Alexander Chancellor)
Running around the water park was a toy train for children. . . .
“May be the most important book ever written about the United States because it tells you exactly what it is like to live there in an entertaining and intelligent way.” (dust-jacket blurb, by Auberon Waugh, Daily Telegraph, for Some Times in America and a Life in a Year at the New Yorker [Carroll & Graf], by Alexander Chancellor)
“May be the most important book ever written about the United States, because it tells you—in an entertaining and intelligent way—exactly what it is like to live there.” OR: “May be the most important book ever written about the United States, because it tells you exactly what it is like to live there—and does so in an entertaining and intelligent way.”
At the end of each working day, Lydia would make a photograph of her image on the canvas and then expunge the parts Matisse didn’t want with a turpentine rag. (Ornament and Silence: Essays on Women’s Lives [Knopf], by Kennedy Fraser)
At the end of each working day, Lydia would make a photograph of her image on the canvas and then expunge with a turpentine rag the parts Matisse didn’t want. OR: At the end of each working day, Lydia would make a photograph of her image on the canvas and then use a turpentine rag to expunge the parts Matisse didn’t want.
There were three or four rock radio stations in any town that largely dictated what music people listened to; only a few lucky kids with money built record collections that ventured farther afield. (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More [Hyperion], by Chris Anderson)
In any town, there were three or four rock radio stations that largely dictated what music people listened to. . . .
He routinely bought pieces he had no intention of publishing to help out struggling writers, and kept his old friend F.P.A. on the magazine’s payroll (scouring the Congressional Record for Newsbreak material) when, in the columnist’s final years, his career hit the skids. (Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker [Random House], by Thomas Kunkel)
To help out struggling writers, he routinely bought pieces he had no intention of publishing. . . .
Yet, seeing the world from the metaphysical perspective of Indian philosophy, it was only natural that Harrison should find himself wailing that people could save the world ‘if they only knew’. (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald) [The quotation style is British.]
[with Americanized punctuation] Yet, it was only natural that Harrison, seeing the world from the metaphysical perspective of Indian philosophy, should find himself wailing that people could save the world “if they only knew.” OR: Yet, seeing the world from the metaphysical perspective of Indian philosophy, Harrison naturally found himself wailing that people could save the world “if they only knew.”
Not until Jack Paar screened film of The Beatles performing the song [“She Loves You”] on his show in January 1964 was the US public exposed to Beatlemania. (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald)
Not until film of the Beatles performing the song was screened on Jack Paar’s show, in January 1964, was the U.S. public exposed to Beatlemania. OR: The U.S. public wasn’t exposed to Beatlemania until film of the Beatles performing the song was screened on Jack Paar’s show, in January 1964. 
“I think I’ve been very resilient and resistant and optimistic, up until very recently,” said Ellen Pinney, 56, who was dismissed from a $75,000-a-year job in which she managed procurement and supply for an electronics company in March 2008. (New York Times)
. . . said Ellen Pinney, fifty-six, who was dismissed, in March 2008, from a $75,000-a-year job in which she managed procurement and supply for an electronics company.
Facebook Inc., which by one estimate saw 580,000 American members die this year, has gone to court to oppose the notion that families can compel it to hand over data. In September, Facebook successfully blocked the estate of British model Sahar Daftary from getting account details in U.S. District Court of Northern California, San Jose Division. The executor was hoping Ms. Daftary’s posts and messages might help prove to a coroner that she didn’t commit suicide by showing her state of mind. (Wall Street Journal)
In September, Facebook, in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, San Jose Division, successfully blocked the estate of British model Sahar Daftary from getting account details. The executor was hoping that Ms. Daftary’s posts and messages, which showed her state of mind, might help prove to a coroner that she didn’t commit suicide.
Giving an energetic and intimate performance, fans found themselves in close proximity to their rock idols as the band proved that they had just as much on-stage chemistry as they did 50 years ago. (daily mail.co.uk)
Fans found themselves in proximity to their rock idols as the band, giving an energetic and intimate performance, proved that they had just as much onstage chemistry as they had fifty years ago.
Five of the six major publishers in the industry moved from a wholesale pricing model to a system known as the agency model in 2010, a move that allowed publishers to begin setting their own e-book prices. (New York Times)
Five of the six major publishers in the industry moved in 2010 from a wholesale-pricing model to a system known as the agency model, a move that allowed publishers to begin setting their own e-book prices.
The heroine Campbell (Taylor Louderman) sings of her longstanding dream of becoming head cheerleader of the Truman High School squad in the show’s opening moments. (New York Times)
In the show’s opening moments, the heroine Campbell (Taylor Louderman) sings of her long-standing dream of becoming head cheerleader of the Truman High School squad.
More than 50 years ago, the critic and professor Lionel Trilling expressed his frustration with presenting imaginative writing in the classroom in an essay titled “On the Teaching of Modern Literature.” (Wall Street Journal)
More than fifty years ago, in an essay titled “On the Teaching of Modern Literature,” the critic and professor Lionel Trilling expressed his frustration with presenting imaginative writing in the classroom.
If Ms. Scott Thomas’s camp caricature rivals anything in the Joan Crawford playbook in grotesquerie, it still can’t breathe life into this corpse of a movie. (New York Times)
If Ms. Scott Thomas’s camp caricature rivals in grotesquerie anything in the Joan Crawford playbook, it still can’t breathe life into this corpse of a movie.
Instead the underappreciated California desert eccentric Jon Serl is represented by seven boisterous paintings of rubbery dancers, musicians, birds and other beings, and a room is reserved for the often reticent images of Lee Godie, another Chicagoan, who depicted birds and flowers on old window shades with ballpoint pens and touches of color. (New York Times)
. . . Lee Godie, another Chicagoan, who, with ballpoint pens and touches of color, depicted birds and flowers on old window shades. OR: . . . Lee Godie, another Chicagoan, who used ballpoint pens and touches of color to depict birds and flowers on old window shades.
According to Lorraine C. Minnite, a scholar of voter fraud at Columbia University, records show that only twenty-four people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005, an average of eight people a year. (Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance [Wiley], by Alexander Zaitchik)
According to Lorraine C. Minnite, a Columbia University scholar of voter fraud. . . . OR: According to Lorraine C. Minnite, a scholar of voter fraud who teaches at Columbia University. . . . OR: According to Lorraine C. Minnite, who researches voter fraud and teaches at Columbia University. . . .
Most notably, Mr. Cheney defends his position on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the Iraq war and the use of waterboarding with his usual aplomb and deft obfuscation. (New York Times)
Most notably, Mr. Cheney, with his usual aplomb and deft obfuscation, defends his position on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the Iraq war, and the use of waterboarding.
Mr. [Herman] Cain knew the [sexual-harassment] charges would become public 10 days ahead of time, but still he stumbled for three days. (New York Times)
Mr. Cain knew ten days ahead of time that the harassment charges would become public, but still he stumbled for three days.
Despite its moral seriousness, the film’s a crowd pleaser, boasting tense set pieces, a raucous polyglot of voices and accents, beauty-in-poverty streetscapes, and two warm, brawling, big-hearted leads: James Floyd as Rashid, a promising young thug who slips much of the money he scores peddling coke into his mother’s purse, and Fadi Elsayed as Mo, the beanpole younger brother who at first seems the character whose perspective is shared by the title—his criminal brother might be the devil. (Village Voice)

. . . James Floyd as Rashid, a promising young thug who slips into his mother’s purse much of the money he scores by peddling coke
. . . .

Skirts were worn above the knee, evening dress was compulsory, and people spoke in Mayfair French over the alfresco dinners on the roof which lasted until dawn. (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon [Pantheon], by Daniel Farson)
. . . people spoke in Mayfair French during the alfresco rooftop dinners that lasted until dawn.
The first collector did not exist, investigators said, and the second denied ever owning the paintings in an interview with the F.B.I. (New York Times)
The first collector did not exist, investigators said, and, in an interview with the F.B.I., the second denied ever owning the paintings.
On May 26 a show opens at the Dallas Museum of Art about artworks that surrounded the Kennedys the night before the shooting. (New York Times)
A show about artworks that surrounded the Kennedys the night before the shooting opens on May 26 at the Dallas Museum of Art. OR: Opening on May 26 at the Dallas Museum of Art is a show about artworks that surrounded the Kennedys the night before the shooting.
At first, he gave scholarships to inner-city children in Philadelphia, but he found the results disheartening. When he met the students he had supported over dinner, he could see that the system left them socially and academically unprepared for college. (Wall Street Journal)
When, over dinner, he met the students he had supported, he could see that the system left them socially and academically unprepared for college.
Enter Matt Cohen, whose company, Kidfresh, sells frozen meals for children that are lower in fat and sodium and higher in some nutritional elements like fiber. (New York Times)
Enter Matt Cohen, whose company, Kidfresh, sells child-friendly frozen meals that are lower in fat and sodium and higher in some nutritional elements like fiber.
Do I still have crushes now, as a married person? I feel shy answering the question, which really means, I don’t want to hurt those I love with my honesty. (New York)
I feel shy answering the question, which really means that I don’t want my honesty to hurt those I love.
Indeed, I am a monster, both internally and externally. With a passing resemblance to the Elephant Man, I regularly hurt those I love out of insecurity and spite. (New York)
I have a passing resemblance to the Elephant Man, and, out of insecurity and spite, I regularly hurt those I love. OR: Indeed, with a passing resemblance to the Elephant Man, I am a monster both internally and externally. Out of insecurity and spite, I regularly hurt those I love.
He [Tim Cook] gave away the frequent-flier miles that he racked up as Christmas gifts, and he volunteered at a soup kitchen during the Thanksgiving holidays. (Wall Street Journal)
He volunteered at a soup kitchen during the Thanksgiving holidays, and the frequent-flyer miles he had racked up became Christmas gifts to give away. OR: He volunteered at a soup kitchen during the Thanksgiving holidays, and at Christmas, he gave away as gifts the frequent-flyer miles he had racked up.
The criticism was kicked off by comments from two of the show’s black cast members, Jay Pharoah, who said the show needed to “follow up” on the promise to add a black woman, and Kenan Thompson, who announced he did not want to do any more impressions of black women in drag. (New York Times) [A colon would be a more reader-friendly punctuation mark to follow cast members; see Chapter 82.]
. . . he did not want to don drag to do any more impressions of black women. OR: . . . he no longer wanted to don dresses to impersonate black women.
No restaurant here has a policy of Googling guests that I’m aware of, yet they are becoming more attentive to detail nonetheless. (Pittburgh Post-Gazette) [Note that the sentence is also weakened by an error in the agreement of a pronoun and its antecedent; see Chapter 29.]
No local restaurants that I’m aware of have a policy of Googling guests. . . .
He occasionally sells the mixers he restores on Etsy when he runs out of room. (New York Times)
When he runs out of room, he occasionally resorts to Etsy to sell the mixers he has restored.
As [Johnny] Cash weakened and various illnesses forced him to retire from touring, Mr. Rubin encouraged him to press on in the studio. . . . Smote like Job, he found refuge from the pain in his music, and it gave him purpose. (Wall Street Journal)
It was in music that Cash, smote like Job, found refuge from the pain, and the music gave him purpose.
There’s fine writing included, too—Ralph J. Gleason looking back at his encounter with [Hank] Williams as a young reporter, Nolan Porterfield remembering what it felt like, as a Texas teenager, to hear the news of Hank’s death, musicologist Henry Pleasants offering up his analysis of Williams’s singing and writing, Peter Cooper recounting a trip he took that retraced Hank’s last ride, biographer Colin Escott considering what Williams’s fate might have been had he lived longer. (Wall Street Journal)
There are fine writers included, too—Ralph J. Gleason looking back to his days as a young reporter encountering Williams. . . .
[from the print edition of an article] Newt Gingrich openly cried on Friday morning as he described his mother’s illness during an event with a group of mothers at an Iowa coffee shop. (New York Times)
[from the online version of the article] Newt Gingrich openly cried on Friday morning during an event with a group of mothers in an Iowa coffee shop as he described his own mother’s illness. (New York Times)
As you’ve noticed in some of the excerpts above, revising a sentence weakened by a misplaced modifier sometimes involves more than merely repositioning the modifier. Sometimes it’s better to perform some minor restructuring.  
A reviewer of the November 18 show in an English journal disagreed with Frith. . . . (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury], by Louis P. Masur)
Reviewing the November 18 show in an English journal, Arnold Bocklin disagreed with Frith. . . .
The only way to know what was in one [box in the stockroom] was to open it, especially if we needed something specific for a waiting customer that wasn’t already out on the shelves. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly)
The only way to know what was in one was to open it, especially if we needed something specific for a waiting customer and it wasn’t already out on the shelves.  
It seems exploitative to look at harrowing photographs of other people’s pain in an art gallery. (Regarding the Pain of Others [Picador], by Susan Sontag)
It was not in an art gallery that those “other people” depicted in the photographs suffered their pain.
In the comfort of an art gallery, it seems exploitative to look at harrowing photographs of other people’s pain.
Most misplaced modifiers in the form of phrases and dependent clauses, however, can be resituated in their sentences without much effort on your part. The same is true of misplaced single-word modifiers.
[from an article about the hazing-related death of a drum major] The marching band has been suspended from performing indefinitely. (New York Times)
The writer surely doesn’t mean that the band is no longer permitted to subject an audience to an unending performance.
The marching band has been indefinitely suspended from performing. OR: The marching band has been suspended indefinitely from performing. OR: Until further investigation, the band has been suspended from performing. 
A number of contemporary writers and editors, though, think that it’s often perfectly fine to leave a single-word modifier wherever it might land in a sentence. They would argue that only a fusspot would see any reason to relocate the modifiers largely, mostly, even, just, and only in the sentences below. They would claim that readers will instantly understand what each sentence is intended to mean. Any writer, editor, and reader who is grammatically conservative, though, would most likely insist on repositioning the single-word modifier as suggested in the bracketed, italicized rephrasing following each sentence.
An intimate, discursive inquiry into religious belief that opens to include questions about cinema, the movie is largely set within the perimeters of the astonishing Baha’i gardens. (New York Times) [is set largely within the perimeters]
He worked diligently to refine the technology of his craft, but fairly quickly the taking, developing and touching up of photos was mostly done by subordinates. (Wall Street Journal) [was done mostly by subordinates]
Main courses were mostly memorable for their prices, which start at $35 and inflate from there. (New York Times) [were memorable mostly for their prices]
But only about 20% of those they’ve left behind in the motherland [India] even graduate from high school, and 26% of the population is illiterate. (Time) [only about 20% of those they’ve left behind in the motherland graduate even from high school]
Recently she followed a simple formula that required mixing three components in a beaker. Somehow she missed a step, leaving out a chemical. She returned to find her beaker filled with a hard white plastic that had even frozen the stirrer. (New York Times) [that had frozen even the stirrer]
The chapter on the author’s childhood is mainly confined to his immediate family, with little sense of Updike’s forebears or of the larger environment of Berks County, Pennsylvania, in which he was raised, a milieu as formative for him as Mississippi was for Faulkner. (New Republic) [is confined mainly to his immediate family]
Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s yoga pants aren’t just worn in the gym anymore. (Wall Street Journal) [aren’t worn just in the gym anymore]
Nate is awful. But we only know that because at certain key moments, as when he silently mocks Elisa for keeping her “middlebrow” books in the bedroom out of the sight of most guests, Waldman tips the scales pretty heavily against him. (New Republic) [But we know that only because at certain key moments]
Jack, being a smitten and dazzled teenager, believes he and Celeste will be together forever, but we only see his distress through her brusque annoyance at his devotion. (New Republic) [but we see his distress only through her brusque annoyance at his devotion]
This article is only available to magazine subscribers. (harpers.org) [This article is available only to magazine subscribers.]
My finances are a mess, but at least I’m only dunned for a few thousand by American Express. (Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide [Berkley], by Maureen Dowd) [I’m dunned for only a few thousand]
Olika only publishes books that “challenge stereotypes and obsolete norms and traditions in the world of literature.” (slate.com) [Olika publishes only books that]
Han­Chiang will tell you that he only hires chefs who have full culinary degrees from China, which may be why the green beans in my order of string beans with ground pork, a Sichuan staple, were cooked just this side of crunchy, and startlingly green. (New York) [he hires only chefs who have full culinary degrees from China]
Of 59 surveys taken since the Perry boomlet of August, Romney has only placed first in 20. (New York) [has placed first in only 20]
So, in November 2011, the Algonquin managers put Matilda on a leash—but that only lasted a day. (New York Post) [that lasted only a day]
In 1943, the War Production Board decreed that Americans could only buy three pairs of leather and rubber-soled shoes per year, and it limited colors and heel heights. (Wall Street Journal) [could buy only three pairs]
Our family only had one car, though, so we rented another one for me to drive. (Wall Street Journal) [had only one car]
But you can only invest so much money in the business. (slate.com) [you can invest only so much money]
One difficulty with the method was that it only really worked once. (New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog) [it really worked only once]
There is a strong belief in the industry—fair or not—that Disney is only interested in lumbering franchise pictures like “Pirates of the Caribbean” that can sell toys and power theme park rides, a philosophy that tends to irk moviedom’s creative elite. (New York Times) [is interested only in lumbering franchise pictures]
Therapy has always seemed like a waste of time to me because you’re only talking about yourself to one person. (Time) [you’re talking about yourself to only one person]
This movie literally knocks itself out trying to be humorous about dysfunctional sibling relationships, but only succeeds in being freaked-out and stupid. (New York Observer) [but succeeds only in being freaked out and stupid]
(She also published enough short stories to fill a couple of books, but people who only wrote fiction were not given offices.) (Ornament and Silence: Essays on Women’s Lives [Knopf], by Kennedy Fraser) [but people who wrote only fiction were not given offices]
It’s up to you to decide whether you want to achieve the precision that’s ensured by placing only or any similar one-word modifier directly in front of the word it’s intended to modify. But if you prefer the loose, conversational-sounding placement, be forewarned that the resulting sentences can easily invite misinterpretation. What, for instance, is a reader expected to make of the sentence I’ll only call you after ten o’clock? The writer might well mean that I won’t be calling you before ten, but a reader might construe the sentence as saying The only way I’ll get in touch with you after ten is by phone; that is, I won’t be texting you, or e-mailing you, or direct-messaging you, or communicating with you in any other way after ten o’clock.
      Because many newspapers and magazines are now so casual in their placement of only and similar modifiers, a reader needs to be especially alert when confronted with a sentence in which the modifier could conceivably fill any of two or more slots, the meaning of the sentence shifting significantly with each repositioning of the word.
Though it was one of the earliest publishers to introduce digital and tablet editions of its magazines, Time Inc. had until now sold only the app version of single issues of its magazines through Apple. (New York Times)
Only could be inserted into one of two alternative slots in the sentence.
Though it was one of the earliest publishers to introduce digital and tablet editions of its magazines, Time Inc. had until now sold the app version of ____ single issues of its magazines ____through Apple.
The reader might be forced to scour the surrounding sentences for clues about where in the puzzling sentence the modifier fittingly belongs—and she still might not feel entirely confident about having grasped the writer’s intended meaning. Why not spare the reader the extra effort?
 

 ^^  23

The Laggard Modifier
 
A new form of inelegance has arrived on our pages and on our screens: a modifier that is neither misplaced to the detriment of the writer’s meaning (see Chapter 22) nor dangling illogically and ungrammatically (see Chapter 20). It nonetheless throws a sentence into some disarray; even inattentive readers are likely to register that something is subtly off. This error is what we might call a laggard modifier—one that shows up a little too late in the sentence. It usually takes the form of a phrase, often beginning with the preposition like or the participle including (used prepositionally), but sometimes it can be a dependent clause. A laggard modifier typically enriches a sentence by providing examples (often in a pair or in a list). But its peculiar placement jars the reader, who often can’t resist the temptation to guide the modifier backward in the sentence, repositioning it so that it follows the word, usually a noun, that it’s intended to modify.
      The laggard modifiers have been underscored in the following excerpts.
But many of the adults I spoke to in Steubenville feigned ignorance about the rape, including the high school’s principal and football coach, or blamed the victim for what happened. (New York Times)
But many of the adults I spoke to in Steubenville, including the high school’s principal and football coach, feigned ignorance about the rape, or blamed the victim for what had happened.
All advertising has been created in both English and Spanish; special ads distributed only in New York City will point parents toward a Web site where they can find borough-specific resources to address problems that can keep their children out of school, like illness or immigration issues. (New York Times)
. . . special ads distributed only in New York City will point parents toward a Web site where they can find borough-specific resources to address problems, like illness or immigration issues, that can keep their children out of school.
Nonbanking parts of London have drawn new interest, like the King’s Cross neighborhood in the north where Google is building its headquarters. (New York Times)
Nonbanking parts of London, like the King’s Cross neighborhood in the north, where Google is building its headquarters, have drawn new interest. OR: Among the nonbanking parts of London that have drawn new interest is the King’s Cross neighborhood in the north, where Google is building its headquarters.  
The few street-level retail options at ground zero mostly face onto Church Street. This is where a handful of superluxury boutiques are expected to lease space, including Tiffany and Tom Ford. (New York Times) [Bothered by the positioning of mostly? See Chapter 22.)
This is where a handful of superluxury boutiques, including Tiffany and Tom Ford, are expected to lease space.
Some brands encourage couples to stay in on the holiday, like K-Y, the personal lubricant, which in recent print advertisements promoted special packages of his and her lubricants that also include coupon codes for both ingredients for a home-cooked meal from Plated.com and for a movie to stream from Vudu.com. (New York Times) [The sentence is also weakened by faulty parallelism; see Chapter 42.]
Among the brands encouraging couples to stay in on the holiday is K-Y, the personal lubricant, which in recent print advertisements has promoted special packages of his-and-her lubricants that also include coupon codes for ingredients for a home-cooked meal from Plated.com, as well as for a movie to stream from Vudu.com. OR: Some brands, like the personal lubricant K-Y, encourage couples to stay in on the holiday. In recent print advertisements, K-Y has promoted special packages of his-and-her lubricants that also include coupon codes for ingredients for a home-cooked meal from Plated.com, as well as for a movie to stream from Vudu.com.  
The hotel has high-tech features meant to keep prices low and customers happy like automated check-in kiosks and a “Yobot,” or robotic luggage concierge. (New York Times)
The hotel has high-tech features—like automated check-in kiosks and a “Yobot,” or robotic luggage concierge—meant to keep prices low and customers happy.
A range of products are the obvious result of multiplication, from bifocal lenses and double-sided tape to three-way light bulbs. (Wall Street Journal)
A range of products, from bifocal lenses and double-sided tape to three-way light bulbs, are the obvious result of multiplication.  
A mostly black wall drawing depicts a painting that she pulled from the show because of overcrowding, titled “What will American art tell about our story?” (New York Times)
A mostly black wall drawing depicts a painting, titled “What will American art tell about our story?,” that she pulled from the show because of overcrowding.
His [Peter Arno’s] first full-page idea drawing came on July 3, 1926 (page 12), titled “The Ruined Weekend.” (The Comic Worlds of Peter Arno, William Steig, Charles Addams, and Saul Steinberg [Johns Hopkins University Press], by Iain Topliss)
His first full-page idea drawing, titled “The Ruined Weekend,” came on July 3, 1926 (page 12).
Some of the more valuable items were sold when money was short, including a Mondrian drawing and a Warhol Campbell’s Soup box; and others were given to museums and other institutions. (New York Times)
Some of the more valuable items, including a Mondrian drawing and a Warhol Campbell’s Soup box, were sold when money was short; and others were given to museums and other institutions.
Williams College was the first to shutter its fraternities, in the 1960s, and many others have since followed suit, including Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby and Middlebury. (Rolling Stone)
Williams College was the first to shutter its fraternities, in the 1960s, and many others—including Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, and Middlebury—have since followed suit.
They [Google and Warby Parker] join other companies that are grappling with these design challenges, including big companies like Apple, Nike and Jawbone and smaller ones like Pebble, MetaWatch and Misfit Wearables. (New York Times)
They join other companies—like Apple, Nike, and Jawbone, as well as smaller ones like Pebble, MetaWatch, and Misfit Wearables—that are grappling with these design challenges.
Celebrity weeklies had some of the biggest losses in newsstand sales, including People (11.8 percent decline), Us Weekly (16.7 percent) and Life & Style Weekly (20.9 percent). (New York Times)
Celebrity weeklies—including People (11.8 percent decline), Us Weekly (16.7 percent), and Life & Style Weekly (20.9 percent)—had some of the biggest losses in newsstand sales. OR: Some of the biggest losses in newsstand sales were at celebrity weeklies, including People (11.8 percent decline), Us Weekly (16.7 percent), and Life & Style Weekly (20.9 percent).
There are provisions in the Affordable Care Act to mitigate adverse selection, including the subsidy and a small fine for those who refuse to buy insurance. (New York Times)
The Affordable Care Act includes provisions, including the subsidy and a small fine for those who refuse to buy insurance, to mitigate adverse selection. OR: To mitigate adverse selection, the Affordable Care Act includes provisions such as the subsidy and a small fine for those who refuse to buy insurance.
The report’s findings bode well for mainstream English-language news media outlets as well as news platforms that cater to bilingual or English-speaking Latinos like Fusion, a joint venture between ABC and Univision that targets bicultural Hispanic millennials. (New York Times)
The report’s findings bode well for mainstream English-language news-media outlets, as well as for news platforms—like Fusion, a joint venture between ABC and Univision targeting bicultural Hispanic millennials—that cater to bilingual or English-speaking Latinos.
Paul Berglund, who is Swedish-American and originally from St. Louis, has been the chef at the Bachelor Farmer since it opened last summer. While developing the menu, he applied the skills he developed over seven years in the celebrated Italian kitchen at Oliveto, in Oakland, Calif. (like curing, smoking, pickling, foraging and cheesemaking) to a Midwestern palette of ingredients. (New York Times)
While developing the menu, he applied to a Midwestern palette of ingredients the skills (like curing, smoking, pickling, foraging, and cheesemaking) that he had developed over seven years in the celebrated Italian kitchen at Oliveto, in Oakland, California.
Nonetheless, Florence Fabricant and I were undaunted as we forged ahead (as were Josh and Alex, in truth). (New York Times)
Nonetheless, Florence Fabricant and I were undaunted (as were Josh and Alex, in truth) as we forged ahead.
The pho is a favorite with this crowd, based on a deeply amber beef broth glittering with tiny droplets of oil. (New York Times)
The pho, based on a deeply amber beef broth glittering with tiny droplets of oil, is a favorite with this crowd.
But a new H.D.R. software program from Unified Color, called HDR Expose 3, does two things well that other H.D.R. programs generally don’t (especially the H.D.R. software built into cameras). (New York Times)
But HDR Expose 3, a new H.D.R. software program from Unified Color, does two things well that other H.D.R. programs (especially the H.D.R. software built into cameras) generally don’t.
President Obama delivered one of the more remarkable speeches of his Presidency on Thursday, or for that matter of any recent President. (Wall Street Journal)
On Thursday, President Obama delivered one of the more remarkable speeches of his Presidency or, for that matter, of any recent Presidency.
It would also become clear enough to even casual observers that Evelyn’s only other acquaintances, theater people and Bohemian types, were powerless, not very reliable, and not likely to come to her defense—described in the World as “nauseous representatives of the common types of the Tenderloin—waiters, chorus girls, bell boys, cab drivers, private detectives, chauffeurs, doorkeepers, theatre hands, models, valets and other habitués of that part of the city.” (American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century [Riverhead], by Paula Uruburu)
It would also become clear enough to even casual observers that Evelyn’s only other acquaintances, theater people and Bohemian types (described in the World as “nauseous representatives of the common types of the Tenderloin—waiters, chorus girls, bell boys, cab drivers, private detectives, chauffeurs, doorkeepers, theatre hands, models, valets and other habitués of that part of the city”), were powerless, not very reliable, and not likely to come to her defense.
In each of the revised sentences, the parts fit together more pleasingly.
 

 ^^  24

Writers who commit this error sometimes feel bad about it.
 
If you think that this is going to be a chapter telling you that the phrase feel bad in the title should be replaced with feel badly, I’m sorry, because nowhere in this book will such wrongheaded advice be dispensed. (One should feel bad about writing badly, but feeling badly would mean there is something wrong with one’s sense of touch.)
      The trouble with the phrasing of the title is the heedless positioning of the adverb sometimes. Thanks to the writer’s carelessness, the sentence is saying two conflicting things at once, and the alert reader will wonder which of the two possible meanings is the one the writer intended. A statement susceptible of two or more clashing interpretations is said to be ambiguous.
      Beware of any modifier—either a single-word adverb, like sometimes, or an adverbial phrase—that displays itself teasingly and suggestively between two verbs or between a verb and a verbal (an infinitive, a gerund, or a participle). The result is that a reader won’t know which one of the two verbal forms the modifier belongs to. In the sentence Writers who commit this error sometimes feel bad about it, the adverb sometimes is simultaneously modifying commit and feel. But the adverb needs to pledge itself to one verb or the other—it can’t carry on with both.
      The problem can be resolved by sliding the adverb around in the sentence until it clicks into place to ensure that the statement’s meaning is in accord with the writer’s intention.
Writers who sometimes commit this error feel bad about it. [The adverb sometimes is unambiguously modifying commit; the meaning is that the error is committed only occasionally.]
Writers who commit this error feel bad about it sometimes. [The adverb sometimes is unambiguously modifying feel; the meaning is that writers don’t always feel bad about having committed the error. The same meaning would be expressed by Sometimes writers who commit this error feel bad about it.]
Women who have been assaulted often worry, with reason, about being victimized a second time in court. (New York Times)
The positioning of often between assaulted and worry leaves a reader confused, if only for a millisecond, about whether the sentence means Women who have often been assaulted worry, with reason, about being victimized a second time in court or Women who have been assaulted worry, often with reason, about being victimized a second time in court. The writer most likely intended to express what the latter of those revisions states unmisleadingly.
Fifty-five percent of men who drink most often drink beer, compared with 23 percent of women. (New York Times)
The verb drink appears twice in the sentence—first as an intransitive verb (a verb without a direct object), then as a transitive verb (a verb with a direct object: beer). But since the adverbial modifying phrase most often is sandwiched between both appearances of drink, and therefore is modifying both drinks, how is the reader to know which one of the two verbs the phrase is intended to modify? Is the sentence telling the reader that fifty-five percent of the men who are the most frequent drinkers drink beer or that fifty-five percent of men who drink are most likely to drink beer rather than some other form of alcohol? Once the writer decides what he wants the sentence to say, he needs to revise it accordingly.
While he [Reginald Marsh] would find inspiration in artists like Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Rubens for his style, unlike his contemporary Guy Pène Dubois, for example, he never painted the upper-crust world he came from. (New York Times)
The ambiguous modifier is the phrasing unlike his contemporary Guy Pène Dubois, for example. Are we being told that Guy Pène Dubois didn’t find inspiration in artists like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Rubens—or are we being told that Marsh, unlike Dubois, never chose to paint upper-crust subject matter? The writer obviously intended the sentence to convey the latter meaning, but a reader is in for some struggle—and at least a trip to Wikipedia to resolve matters to her satisfaction.
While he would find inspiration for his style in artists like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Rubens, he, unlike his contemporary Guy Pène Dubois, for example, never painted the upper-crust world he came from. OR: While he would find inspiration for his style in artists like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Rubens, he differed from his contemporary Guy Pène Dubois, for example, by never painting the upper-crust world he came from.
I moved back in with my parents briefly to help with the rehab, and after several days of witnessing my father’s frustration with [in imitation of the ailing father’s difficulties in speaking] “lookoutyou’reabouttositonathumbtack,” it occurred to me—poetry! (Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry [Harper], by David Orr)
The adverb briefly is simultaneously modifying moved and to help, though a reader soon catches on that it is intended to modify only moved.
I briefly moved back in with my parents to help with the rehab. . . .
[about the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble] It is removing thousands of physical books from stores in order to create nifty digital zones to persuade customers to embrace the Nook e-book readers, the company’s alternative to Amazon’s Kindle. Persistent rumors that B&N’s owners wish to sell regularly sweep the corridors of publishing. (The Nation)
The adverb regularly is simultaneously modifying the infinitive to sell and the verb sweep; most likely, the writer intended it to modify sweep: Persistent rumors that B&N’s owners wish to sell are now regularly sweeping through the corridors of publishing or Persistent rumors that B&N’s owners wish to sell are now sweeping regularly through the corridors of publishing.
[about the Grateful Dead] As for the drummers, they had their work cut out, given the extemporizing, not to mention the drugs. The need to stay loose occasionally left them slack. (New Yorker)
Occasionally is modifying both to stay loose and left. Was it only on occasion that the drummers needed to stay loose, or did the need to stay loose leave them occasionally slack? The writer obviously intended the latter interpretation, but why burden the reader with having to figure things out for herself?
The need to stay loose left them occasionally slack. OR: Their need to stay loose led to occasionally slack performances.
The pressure to express oneself surely comes from within as without. (The Nation)
The adverb surely is modifying both the infinitive to express and the verb comes. Because surely can be understood in at least two senses here, the sentence could mean either The pressure to express oneself is sure to come as much from within as from without or The pressure to express oneself with confidence and certainty comes as much from within as from without.
[about a review of the movie Broadcast News] As a news junkie, Pauline had watched the content of network news being debased for years, and her years of watching brilliantly informed her review of the picture[.] (followed by a direct quotation, in Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
The adverb brilliantly modifies both the gerund watching and the verb informed. The writer most likely meant to say something of this sort: As a news junkie, Pauline had watched the content of network news being debased for years, and her years of watching and brilliantly reflecting informed her review of the picture. Or maybe not. Maybe the writer meant something along the lines of As a news junkie, Pauline had watched the content of network news being debased for years, and those years of reflecting on what she had watched found expression in her brilliant review of the picture. Again, a writer has left a reader guessing.
But I would also say that the capacity to develop a crush speedily depends on a certain degree of faith or innocence about human nature—one’s own and that of others. To be able to fall in love so quickly, one has to believe that it’s relatively easy to make a relationship work, so long as two people are keen on and attracted to each other. (New York)
The adverb speedily is modifying both the infinitive phrase to develop a crush and the intransitive verb depends. The second sentence of the passage, however, makes it clear that the writer intended speedily to modify the infinitive phrase.
But I would also say that the capacity to speedily develop a crush depends on a certain degree of faith or innocence about human nature—one’s own and that of others. [Some readers, however, are sure criticize the split infinitive in that revision; see Chapter 52.]
But I would also say that one’s capacity for speedily developing a crush depends on a certain degree of faith or innocence about human nature—one’s own and that of others.
The challenge was to try to mainline the crazy energy of the parties they used to throw directly into consumer culture. (New York)
The challenge was to try to tap the crazy energy of the parties they used to throw and mainline it directly into consumer culture.
A writer should avoid even the remote possibility that a reader might register a modifier as ambiguous.
Reading this [tale] to my daughter recently, for the first time in thirty-five years, I was instantly returned, by the talismanic activity of that “cherry-coloured twist,” to a memory of my mother reading it to me. (How Fiction Works [Farrar, Straus and Giroux], by James Wood)
The writer surely doesn’t want readers to entertain the possibility that he has recently read a story aloud to a daughter who is now in middle age, but it’s awfully easy to form that impression.
As I was reading this to my daughter recently, the talismanic activity of that “cherry-coloured twist” instantly returned me, for the first time in thirty-five years, to a memory of my mother reading the story to me.
 

 ^^  25

Don’t leave your adverbs out in the cold.
 
If you’re going to use a single-word adverb to modify a verb phrase—a phrase (such as had gone) that consists of at least one helping, or auxiliary, verb and a main verb—there’s something you ought to know. The snuggest place for that adverb is precisely to the right of the helping verb, not to the left of it and not to the right of the main verb.
      There’s a widespread resistance, though, to splitting the verb phrase. It seems to be a side effect of the fear of splitting an infinitive (see Chapter 52), but the two kinds of splits are entirely unrelated. So please do try to find the warmest spot for your adverbs.
Let me hasten to add that there was no doubt that this audience had enjoyed mightily what it had just seen, a succession of showstoppers that climaxed with a knockout rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” that immortal anthem to nonliquid assets. (New York Times)
. . . there was no doubt that this audience had mightily enjoyed what it had just seen. . . .
Twenty-five of the 300 films that were shot ultimately were chosen to be part of the new campaign. (New York Times)
Twenty-five of the three hundred films that were shot were ultimately chosen to be part of the new campaign.
When a verb phrase consists of two helping verbs and a main verb, the usual advice is to position the adverb after the first helping verb. Let your ear—or your intuition—guide you in choosing where an adverb might be ensconced for maximum comfort.
      Squeezing an adverbial phrase between a helping verb and a main verb or between two helping verbs, however, will inevitably result in clunkiness, as in the following two sentences from Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, by Brian Kellow (Viking).
In 1976, when Reeling was published, John Simon had, while expressing his admiration for Pauline as a stylist, objected to her coarseness of spirit and taste, in terms of both language and her championing of certain movies he considered lowbrow: “She is a lively writer with a lot of common sense, but also one who, in a very disturbing sense, is common.”
In 1976, when Reeling was published, John Simon, while expressing his admiration for Pauline as a stylist, had objected to her coarseness of spirit and taste. . . .
To close friends Pauline complained that Shawn had, in a subtle way, been treating her differently since her return from Hollywood.
To close friends Pauline complained that, in a subtle way, Shawn had been treating her differently since her return from Hollywood. OR [reducing the prepositional phrase in a subtle way to a single-word adverb]: To close friends Pauline complained that Shawn had been subtly treating her differently since her return from Hollywood.
The adverbial phrases need to be repositioned in the following two sentences as well.
Lance does, on a weekend trip into town, buy himself a wristwatch with an LED display and a lot of buttons on the face, but he seems less interested in the thing’s technological powers than in its notional ability to attract women. (New York Times)
On a weekend trip into town, Lance does buy himself a wristwatch with an LED display and a lot of buttons on the face. . . .
It’s true that men have, over the past half century, begun to contribute more as parents: The number of stay-at-home fathers has nearly tripled in the last 20 years—to a meager 214,000. (New Republic)
It’s true that, over the past half century, men have begun to contribute more. . . . [The comma following that is an optional, discretionary comma.] OR: It’s true that men, over the past half century, have begun to contribute more. . . .
Sometimes both a single-word adverb and an adverbial phrase come between a helping verb and a main verb. The single-word adverb can usually stay put, but the adverbial phrase needs to be resituated. In the four excerpts that follow, the single-word adverbs are now, never, simply, and usually.
Janet has now, thanks to regular TV appearances, become something of a stalkable celebrity herself. (Wacky Chicks: Life Lessons from Fearlessly Inappropriate and Fabulously Eccentric Women [Simon & Schuster], by Simon Doonan)
Thanks to regular TV appearances, Janet has now become something of a stalkable celebrity herself. OR: Now, thanks to regular TV appearances, Janet has become something of a stalkable celebrity herself.
Theirs has never, despite their celebrity, been an especially flashy existence—which means they already have the perfect clothes for it. (Wall Street Journal)
Despite their celebrity, theirs has never been an especially flashy existence—which means they already have the perfect clothes for it.
A person with a genetic predisposition toward loneliness will simply, in an era marked by disconnection, have a harder time avoiding the state [of loneliness]. (Lonely: A Memoir [Harper], by Emily White)
In an era marked by disconnection, a person genetically predisposed toward loneliness will simply have a harder time avoiding it.
The Grateful Dead, more than most, is a band of eras. Each year has a distinct sound to it. An educated [Dead] Head can usually, within a couple of bars, identify what year a concert recording was made. (New Yorker) [If you feel uneasy about the first sentence, see Chapter 46.]
Each year has a distinct sound. It usually takes an educated Head no more than a couple of bars to identify what year a concert recording was made.
When two or more adverbial elements pile up between the helping verb and the main verb, the result is clumsiness and congestion. 
Yet he has, apparently and none too plausibly, never before been on a blind date. (New York Times)
Yet, apparently and none too plausibly, he has never before been on a blind date.
Awkwardness is also inevitable when an adverbial element is positioned between (1) the combination of a helping verb and a main verb and (2) an infinitive.  
A magazine for teenage girls will try, joined by marketers and retailers, to add another “special” day to the American marketing calendar already crowded with celebrations both real (Christmas, Halloween) and fanciful (Black Friday, Cyber Monday). (New York Times)
Joined by marketers and retailers, a magazine for teenage girls will try to add another “special” day to the American marketing calendar, which is already crowded with celebrations both real (Christmas, Halloween) and fanciful (Black Friday, Cyber Monday). OR: A magazine for teenage girls, in partnership with marketers and retailers, will try to add another “special” day to the American marketing calendar, which is already crowded with celebrations both real (Christmas, Halloween) and fanciful (Black Friday, Cyber Monday). OR: Marketers and retailers will partner [OR: team up] with a magazine for teenage girls in an attempt to add another “special” day to the American marketing calendar. . . .
Even when helping verbs are out of the picture, single-word adverbs, as well as adverbial phrases, sometimes end up in the most precarious positions (see also Chapter 22). Reading a sentence aloud can help you find a more inviting place for the adverb or adverbial phrase to settle down.
But while she always meant to treat kindly her adorable “Scramdoodle,” she could turn on a dime too, and then her moods became possessive. (Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties [Harvest Books], by Marion Meade)
But while she always meant to treat her adorable “Scramdoodle” kindly, she could turn on a dime too, and then her moods became possessive.
Major museum exhibits she attended rarely due to the crowds, but painter Michael J. W. Green was electrified one day at the Guggenheim when he overheard an employee exclaim that Garbo was there. (Garbo: A Biography [Knopf], by Barry Paris)
Because of the crowds, she rarely attended major museum exhibits, but painter Michael J. W. Green was electrified. . . . OR: She rarely attended major museum exhibits, because of the crowds, but painter Michael J. W. Green was electrified. . . . OR: She usually avoided major museum exhibits because of the crowds, but painter Michael J. W. Green was electrified. . . .
Finally, a clumsily situated adverb can distort the writer’s intended meaning (see Chapter 22).
[quoted in an article about a company about to eliminate many positions] “We do not make plans that may impact our employees lightly, and as a company we will work tirelessly to ensure that those at risk are offered the support, options and advice necessary to find new opportunities.” (New York Times)
“Making plans that may impact our employees is not something we take lightly. . . .”
 

 ^^  26

The Overreaching Modifier
 
The next time you find yourself setting out words or word-groups in a pair or in a series, you might want to be especially alert if you’re positioning in front of the first item a modifier that you want to apply to that item alone. It may well turn out that the modifier has other things in mind. A modifier is sometimes too ambitious—not just for its own good but for the good of the entire sentence in which it appears. Instead of confining its descriptive or limital powers to the word that immediately follows it, the modifier can throw its weight forward in the sentence so that the modifier does its job on the next available word as well, even when that word was intended to remain unmodified. The result is a sentence whose meaning conflicts with the meaning intended by the writer.
      In the sentence The manager insisted that her staff never be late and be polite to all clients, for instance, the adverb never is spreading its influence far forward into the sentence. The unhappy result? It sounds as if the manager insisted that her staff never be polite to all clients. You could easily rephrase the sentence as The manager insisted that her staff never be late and that they be polite to all clients or The manager insisted that her staff arrive on time and be polite to all clients.
      In the original sentence, the modifier never was overambitious and overreaching. It refused to accept the limited role the writer had assigned to it.
Many [wellness] programs that ask employees to meet certain health targets offer rewards in the form of lower premiums. At Indiana University Health, a large health system, employees who do not smoke and achieve a certain body mass index, or B.M.I., can receive up to $720 a year off the cost of their insurance. (New York Times)
The adverb not, in the second sentence, can easily be misread as applying not only to smoke but also to achieve.
At Indiana University Health, a large health system, employees who do not smoke and who achieve a certain body mass index, or B.M.I., can receive up to $720 a year off the cost of their insurance.
Along the way I realized that pulled pork doesn’t have to be the work of a day and a feast for a crowd. Making a small batch is not hard and fairly convenient. (New York Times)
Making a small batch is not hard and is fairly convenient. OR: Making a small batch is easy and fairly convenient.
[Marisa] Merz was routinely identified as the wife and, since 2003, the widow of Arte Povera’s leading figure, Mario Merz, and for years her own work was seldom exhibited and afforded only glancing consideration. (New Yorker)
The adverb seldom too easily appears to be inviting itself to modify afforded as well as exhibited.
. . . for years her own work was seldom exhibited and was afforded only glancing consideration.
She tried not to yield to it [angina] and to continue with her punishing schedule, but she did suffer a couple of relapses in screening rooms, and she carried nitroglycerine pills in her purse. (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
To some readers, the adverb not will seem to be modifying both infinitive phrases—to yield to it and to continue with her punishing schedule—even though it is obviously intended to modify only the first.
She tried not to yield to it or permit it to disrupt her punishing schedule. . . . OR: She tried not to yield to it and continued with her punishing schedule. . . .
Pauline wasn’t mad about Vanity Fair, which she found too brassy and insubstantial and celebrity-driven, but she looked forward to seeing what Wolcott came up with. (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [Viking], by Brian Kellow)
Some readers will inevitably carry forward the adverb too so that it is modifying not only brassy but also insubstantial and celebrity-driven. The adverb makes sense in front of brassy and celebrity-driven. But the phrase too insubstantial raises the questions of (1) whether there is an acceptable degree of insubstantiality in a magazine’s contents and (2) whether only the insubstantiality that exceeds that degree is deplorable. (Would one say that a movie is too stupid or too insulting of a viewer’s intelligence? See Chapter 55.)
Pauline wasn’t mad about Vanity Fair, which she found insubstantial, as well as too brassy and celebrity-driven, but she looked forward to seeing what Wolcott came up with.
He never married and had no children. (New York Times)
It’s too easy for a reader to push never forward to the start of the second half of the compound predicate and end up with a double negative: never had no children.
He never married or had children. OR: He never married, and he had no children. OR: He never married, and had no children. [If you’re wondering why there’s a comma in the final revision, see Chapter 77.]
I consistently sold a lot of merchandise, never called in sick and clocked in on time. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly) 
I consistently sold a lot of merchandise, always clocked in on time, and never called in sick. OR: I always clocked in on time, consistently sold a lot of merchandise, and never called in sick.
[Dave] Thomas demanded that Wendy’s burgers never be frozen and be sold made-to-order. (USA Today)
Thomas demanded that Wendy’s burgers never be frozen and always be sold made-to-order.
Sometimes, even after a careful examination of a sentence’s context, a reader cannot confidently and conclusively determine whether a modifier preceding a pair of adjectives is intended to modify both of them or only the first. In the following sentence, the writer most likely wanted too to modify only subjective, but how can a reader be completely certain?
Judge Pauley wrote that such a test would be too subjective and unpredictable. (New York Times)
Judge Pauley wrote that such a test would be unpredictable and too subjective.
In the next excerpt, from the review of a play, the possessive noun characters’ muscles its way forward and modifies dream sequences, even though the writer might have intended it to modify only vices.
The plot is piecemeal, composed of disjointed vignettes about different characters’ vices and superfluous dream sequences. (New York Times)
The plot is piecemeal, composed of superfluous dream sequences, as well as disjointed vignettes about different characters’ vices.
Finally, a modifier can sometimes reach backward, rather than forward, and give a reader pause.
Played with self-effacing gentleness by Eric Anderson, Shlomo certainly makes an arresting figure. With a bushy beard and yarmulke always in place, he’s often found strumming a guitar and singing songs of peace, love and harmony to dreamy-eyed members of the flower-power generation. (New York Times)
The modifier always in place throws its weight backward to beard, because both beard and yarmulke share the single article a.

With a bushy beard, and with his yarmulke always in place, he’s often found strumming. . . .

 

 ^^  27

The Unhinged Appositive
 
If you’re going to start a sentence with a phrase like A graduate of Brooklyn College or A woman in early middle age, consider yourself safe if the very next thing you do is type a verb or a verb phrase: is flourishing would work nicely enough. But if, instead, you press the comma key, be careful. If you follow the comma with a person’s name or a subjective pronoun such as she (see Chapter 30), you’re home free. If you follow that comma with a possessive noun or a possessive pronoun, however, your sentence is a goner. You’ll end up with a miscreation like A graduate of Brooklyn College, her enthusiasm is contagious or A woman in early middle age, Fionella’s brilliance is the envy of her colleagues.
      But you won’t be alone.
A natural blonde, her dyed red hair was pulled back tight against her forehead. (New York Observer)
The adopted son of a levee engineer, his youth was spent in Memphis and the Ozarks; he attended a prep school in a Benedictine monastery in Subiaco, Arkansas. (New Republic)
A buyer for Bloomingdale’s who had married a successful garment merchant, Doris’s entire life had been lived in style. (J. D. Salinger: A Life [Random House], by Kenneth Slawenski)
A former college women’s-studies major, my commitment to doing style-related stories with a feminist message was very real. (slate.com)
An entertainment and culture critic, Siegel’s own career is tangled up with on-line publications from Salon.com to the Web version of the New Republic, so he’s a veteran user—and abuser. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
A gifted mimic, her accounts of the local Delphian Society meetings delighted her children and later yielded a series of New Yorker sketches for her son. (The O’Hara Concern: A Biography of John O’Hara [Random House], by Matthew J. Bruccoli)  
A tattooed punk, his life was already changed by a childhood encounter with Dawn—and a gross-out scene involving them both and a dog is not for the faint of heart. (New York Post)
A firm opponent to globalization and an equally ardent voice for social justice (no wonder he’s so popular with the European left), Mr. Chao’s multilingual flair is quite effective communication. (New York Times)
A dazzling comic force whose career extended from stand-up to a major acting career, [Robin] Williams’ comedic talents were so quick and brilliant that he often intimidated other comedians. (Hollywood Reporter)
Johnny Marr was the band’s true leader. A brilliant, innovative guitarist, his tremolo-soaked jangle in songs like “William, It Was Really Nothing” added the power-pop counterpoint to Morrissey’s moping. (Wall Street Journal)
A fellow journalist, his insights and criticisms were invaluable. (Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail [Portfolio], by Caitlin Kelly)
A man of intense homoerotic sensibility, his hallmarks as a writer were incisiveness and honesty. (Publishers Weekly)
As his contract wound down, Beck surprised his colleagues by convincing talk-radio superagent George Hiltzik to take him on as a client. A Democrat and a heavy hitter with New York’s N. S. Bienstock agency, Hiltzik’s clients at the time included Matt Drudge and Don Imus. (Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance [Wiley], by Alexander Zaitchik)
Once a master at spectacle, her artRave entrance, strapped in a gargantuan hovercraft that lifted her about three feet into the air, fell flat. (New York Post)
[about the Beatles (the uppercasing is retained from the source)] The quintessential Sixties four-piece, their natural inclinations were for balance, form, and attention to detail, and in straining to transcend those obsolete values in HELTER-SKELTER they comically overreached themselves, reproducing the requisite bulldozer design but on a Dinky Toy scale. (Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties [Henry Holt], by Ian MacDonald)
So what exactly is the matter?
      Each of the sentences begins with a phrase that grammarians call an appositive—a noun phrase that volunteers information about another noun. An appositive usually follows the noun: in the sentence Jana, a renowned botanist, moved to Houston, the appositive is a renowned botanist. The noun Jana and the phrase a renowned botanist make perfect sense together.
      But when writers decide to situate an appositive like a renowned botanist at the outset of a sentence, they sometimes forget that the appositive, by its very nature, is providing an alternative name or designation for a person—a person who hasn’t yet made her official entrance into the sentence. So the only possible subject of the sentence’s independent clause (the word-group that will follow the comma) must be a noun that in one way or another functions as a name for her—and not a noun that names one of her attributes.
      In other words, the introductory appositive and the subject of the independent clause must be equivalent in meaning. An equal sign should be implied between them. But a graduate of Brooklyn College obviously can’t equal enthusiasm, and a woman in early middle age can’t equal brilliance—though that’s what the two sentences at the outset of this chapter have fatuously declared.
      To repair such sentences, you’ll need to reconstruct the independent clause so that it begins with a subject to which the appositive can be securely hinged.
      Here are renovations of the first five erroneous excerpts above:
A natural blonde, she wears her dyed-red hair pulled back tight against her forehead.
The adopted son of a levee engineer, he spent his youth in Memphis and the Ozarks. . . . 
A buyer for Bloomingdale’s who had married a successful garment merchant, Doris had lived in style her entire life.
A former college women’s-studies major, I had a very real commitment to doing style-related stories with a feminist message.
An entertainment and culture critic, Siegel has pursued a career tangled up with online publications from Salon.com to the Web version of The New Republic, so he’s a veteran user—and abuser.
Unhinged appositives do not limit their illogic to sentences about people.
[about Donald Barthelme’s short story “The Indian Uprising”] A Vietnam allegory whose incantatory ironies evoke the fine cuticles of T. S. Eliot, its energy and invention burst out of the gate from its famous opening paragraph of Comanche arrows descending in clouds on a tableau of bourgeois malaise—“‘Do you think this is a good life?’ The table held apples, books, long-playing records. She looked up. ‘No’”—to the swath of carnage that leaves children laid waste by helicopter fire. (Bookforum)
“Just about the most sheerly readable novel within miles, its whole meaning lies in that readability, and stops there.” (New Yorker, quoted in The O’Hara Concern: A Biography of John O’Hara [Random House], by Matthew J. Bruccoli)
The thriving apartment market in these neighborhoods is a bright spot in an otherwise grim financial picture for Detroit. Once the nation’s fourth-largest city, its population has dwindled and its finances are floundering. (New York Times)
Once the nation’s fourth-largest city, it is now beset by a dwindling population, and its finances are floundering.
A venomous and ill-disguised burlesque of prep school life that received blistering reviews, the book’s reception precipitated Burns’s return to Italy, where he would prop up the bar at the Excelsior Hotel in Florence for several years before his death from either a cerebral hemorrhage, sunstroke or simply an excess of drink. (New York Times)
A venomous and ill-disguised burlesque of prep-school life, the book received blistering reviews that precipitated Burns’s return to Italy. . . .
Some sentences begin with two or more unhinged appositives in a row.
Part confession, part cautionary tale, Mr. Brock took the stage of the converted railway station adjacent to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center to talk about his involvement in “The Arkansas Project” in the 1990s, or what he called a conservative-funded “dirt-digging operation into the Clintons’ past.” (New York Times)
Mr. Brock took the stage of the converted railway station adjacent to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center to give a talk—part confession, part cautionary tale—about his involvement in “The Arkansas Project” in the 1990s, or what he called a conservative-funded “dirt-digging operation into the Clintons’ past.”
Finally, an unhinged appositive sometimes shows up in the middle or at the end of a sentence.
Vilar had subsequently paid for the young man’s college and medical-school education—one of about thirty students he had put through college. (New Yorker)
Vilar had subsequently covered the college and medical-school expenses for the young man—one of about thirty students he had put through college.
After twenty-five years, Stossel changed psychiatrists. He is now with Dr. W., who appears to be a humanist-existentialist practitioner—a school of psychiatry of which Rollo May is one of the founders. (New Yorker)
He is now with Dr. W., who appears to be a practitioner of humanist-existentialist psychiatry—a school of psychiatry of which Rollo May is one of the founders. OR: He is now with Dr. W., who appears to practice psychiatry of the humanist-existentialist school, of which Rollo May is one of the founders.
Each pie is served uncut with a special pizza knife, a transition Mr. Molinare made a few months ago, once he could find them. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pies are now served to be cut by the diners themselves with a special pizza knife, a utensil supplied by a company that Mr. Molinare found only a few months ago. OR: Diners now cut each pie themselves with special pizza knives. It was only a few months ago, after much effort, that Mr. Molinare found a company that sells them.
Sometimes, all it takes for the syntax to welcome an otherwise unassimilable appositive is to introduce a simple little prepositional hinge. 
Mr. Ziegler begins, naturally enough, by taking us through Olivier’s boyhood, the son of an irascible rural vicar. (Wall Street Journal)
Mr. Ziegler begins, naturally enough, by taking us through Olivier’s boyhood as the son of an irascible rural vicar.
A sentence with an unhinged appositive might also be repaired by some minor tweaking of the independent clause. In the example below, the problem is resolved by substituting rewriting, a gerund specifying a process, for rewriter, a noun specifying a type of person.
He was especially skilled as a rewriter of other people’s troubled stuff, a gift that helped save The New Yorker career of the great A. J. Liebling. (Introduction, by Adam Gopnik, to Reporting at Wit’s End: Tales from The New Yorker [Bloomsbury], by St. Clair McKelway)
He was especially skilled at rewriting other people’s troubled stuff, a gift that helped save The New Yorker career of the great A. J. Liebling.
Appositives also pitch writers into punctuational quandaries (see Chapters 66-69).
 

 ^^  28

The Mispositioned Appositive
 
An appositive—a noun or a noun phrase offering information about another noun—should settle down right next to the noun it’s related to, as in the sentence you’re now reading: the phrasing set off with dashes is the appositive, and appositive is the noun it’s spilling some revealing beans about.
      A well-behaved appositive never leaves the side of its companionate noun. Many writers, though, are intent on breaking up the pair and putting some painful distance between the two. The result is that a reader sometimes can’t immediately recognize that the noun and the appositive are in fact halves of a whole.
“See that?” said Cavan Patterson, gesturing to a vast abandoned truck depot across from his foraging and food supply business on Butler Street, Wild Purveyors. (New York Times)
The appositive, Wild Purveyors, needs to be positioned next to his foraging and food supply business (phrasing that is in dire need of some hyphens [see Chapter 86]).
“See that?” said Cavan Patterson, gesturing to a vast abandoned truck depot across from Wild Purveyors, his foraging-and-food-supply business, on Butler Street. OR: “See that?” said Cavan Patterson, gesturing to a vast abandoned truck depot across from his foraging-and-food-supply business, Wild Purveyors, on Butler Street.
Serious obstacles to romantic fulfillment can still be found—illness, war, injury, imprisonment—but they have a tendency to be just that: serious. (The Atlantic)
Serious obstacles to romantic fulfillment—illness, war, injury, imprisonment—can still be found, but they have a tendency to be just that: serious.
The new building will feature a black-and-white granite lobby anchored by a 14-foot-tall red rabbit sculpture by Jeff Koons. Three storefronts will wrap around the ground floor, one of which will house a bank, Mr. Minskoff said. (New York Times)
Three storefronts, one of which will house a bank, will wrap around the ground floor, Mr. Minskoff said. OR: Wrapping around the ground floor will be three storefronts, one of which will house a bank, Mr. Minskoff said. 
Leica, based in Germany, released its first high-end digital camera in 2006, the M8, but the company has been in the camera business for almost a century. (New York Times)
Leica, based in Germany, released its first high-end digital camera, the M8, in 2006, but the company has been in the camera business for almost a century.
Wodehouse was among the best-paid and best-loved writers in the world during the 1930s, a British institution, and he could afford to have a sense of humor about critics. He had found that “jolly old Fame” suited him. (New York Times)
Wodehouse, a British institution, was among the best-paid and best-loved writers in the world during the 1930s. . . .
In some sentences, it might take more than a simple repositioning to get things right.
[Hans] Memling was in his late twenties when he painted this triptych, an ambitious young painter making his way in booming Bruges. (New Yorker)
Memling painted this triptych in his late twenties, when he was an ambitious young painter making his way in booming Bruges.
In 2005, Pinault bought Palazzo Grassi for $37 million, a majestic building that previously belonged to another magnate, Gianni Agnelli of the Fiat clan. (Wall Street Journal)
In 2005, for $37 million, Pinault bought Palazzo Grassi, a majestic building that previously belonged to another magnate, Gianni Agnelli of the Fiat clan. OR: In 2005, Pinault paid $37 million for Palazzo Grassi, a majestic building that previously belonged to another magnate, Gianni Agnelli of the Fiat clan.
One pizza didn’t work at all, the Clam Pie, which had few of the shellfish and little of their flavor. (New York Times)
One pizza that didn’t work at all was the Clam Pie, which had few of the shellfish and little of their flavor.  OR: One pizza, the Clam Pie, which had few of the shellfish and little of their flavor, didn’t work at all.
Target is selling a lot more food than it used to, just one of the retailers that have made the business more competitive for traditional supermarkets such as Shop ’n Save, Foodland and Giant Eagle. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Target, which is selling a lot more food than it used to, is just one of the retailers that have made the business more competitive for traditional supermarkets such as Shop ’n Save, Foodland, and Giant Eagle.
AudioFile, a 21-year-old magazine for audiobook enthusiasts, has a regular feature, “Listening With . . .” that profiles audiobook listeners. They include Felicity Aston, who listened as she skied across Antarctica, the first woman to do so alone, in 2012, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a knitter who publishes the blog Yarn Harlot and is the author of books including “All Wound Up.” (New York Times)
AudioFile, a twenty-one-year-old magazine for audiobook enthusiasts, has a regular feature, “Listening With . . . ,” that profiles audiobook listeners. They include Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone, in 2012, listening to audiobooks along the way, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a knitter who publishes the blog Yarn Harlot and is the author of books including All Wound Up.
This Antwerp gallery was instrumental in helping [Owen] Land organize his film archive before his death in 2011, and has handled the work since, a treasure. (New York Times)
The appositive, a treasure, infelicitously follows an adverb, since.
This Antwerp gallery was instrumental in helping Land organize his film archive before his death, in 2011, and has handled the work, a treasure, ever since. OR: This Antwerp gallery was instrumental in helping Land organize his treasure of a film archive before his death, in 2011, and has handled the work ever since. OR:  This Antwerp gallery was instrumental in helping Land organize his film archive before his death, in 2011, and has served as custodian of the treasure ever since.
At Pomona College (my alma mater) this spring, 16 students graduated with an English major out of a student body of 1,560, a terribly small number. (New York Times)
The appositive a terribly small number is unfortunately positioned next to 1,560, a number that is not so terribly small, rather than next to the numeral 12. And many readers will already have enough trouble on their hands, because unless they are familiar with the size of Pomona College, they may well wonder whether the writer meant to say a senior class of 1,560 instead of a student body of 1,560. Nowhere in the opinion piece from which the sentence was extracted does the writer specify that there were in fact 373 students in the graduating class.
At Pomona College (my alma mater) this spring, only sixteen students, a terribly small number, graduated with an English major in a senior class of 373. OR: This spring, of the 373 students in the senior class at Pomona College (my alma mater), only sixteen students, a terribly small number, graduated with an English major. OR: This spring, of the 373 seniors earning degrees from Pomona College (my alma mater), only sixteen, a terribly small number, graduated with an English major.
Most likely, though, the writer positioned a terribly small number at the end of the sentence because he wanted the phrase to occupy the most conspicuous position.
Of the 373 seniors earning degrees from Pomona College (my alma mater) this spring, students graduating with an English major amounted to only sixteen, a terribly small number.
An appositive must have a noun or a pronoun with which it can hook up. It cannot fasten itself to a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.
Mr. Deen mostly just sneers (his default expression) while he details Christian and Tara’s online hookups. (New York Times)
Mr. Deen usually manages little more than a sneer (his default expression) while he details Christian and Tara’s online hookups.
An appositive must be equivalent in meaning to the noun to which it is in apposition. (An appositive, after all, is commonly defined as a noun or noun phrase that renames the noun positioned next to it.) But in some sentences, the appositive is not in fact the equal of its anchoring noun.
[the trouble arises in the final sentence of the paragraph] Glamour is a slippery concept, defined one season by a neoprene minidress, and the next by a gown cut from stiffened brocade. But in one of those pendulum swings as regular as rent hikes, it is encapsulated this summer in the loose, and louche, kimono, the casual uniform of music festival pilgrims traipsing through Coachella, South by Southwest or Bonnaroo. A stand-in for the trusty jeans jacket or cardigan, the look is being embraced this year by self-styled free spirits of every persuasion. (New York Times)
A stand-in for the trusty jeans jacket or cardigan, the kimono is being embraced this year by self-styled free spirits of every persuasion.
[from a restaurant review] A BYOB bistro, the kitchen serves hearty greens, root vegetables and braised meats to pair with favorite wines. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The bistro is not the kitchen, although the sentence equates the two; the kitchen, of course, is merely a part of the bistro.
The kitchen serves hearty greens, root vegetables, and braised meats to pair with favorite wines you bring with you.
The family is there for a wedding party, one of a number of such events happening simultaneously. In between posing for photographs and reveling, Luciano sneaks off to dress up in drag, one of several personas that he routinely dons to entertain family and friends. (New York Times)
. . . Luciano sneaks off to dress up in drag, assuming one of several personas he routinely dons to entertain family and friends.
A reader sometimes encounters sentences in which persons are being equated with jobs or careers.
Starting in 1970, Bonnie Sherk, an East Coast transplant, took on a series of low-paying real-life jobs—waitress, short-order cook—tacitly treating each as an extended study about labor and female identity. (New York Times)
A job is something a person does to earn money, and a person is someone who might have a job or who might do a job. Often, the easiest way to set things right in sentences illogically equalizing people with their jobs is to expand the appositive into a prepositional phrase. 
Starting in 1970, Bonnie Sherk, an East Coast transplant, took on a series of low-paying real-life jobs—as a waitress, as a short-order cook—tacitly treating each as an extended study about labor and female identity.
Between 1992 and 2008, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded rose almost 50 percent, from around 1.1 million to more than 1.6 million. According to Vedder, 60 percent of those additional students ended up in jobs that have not historically required a degree—waitress, electrician, secretary, mail carrier.  (Newsweek)
. . . sixty percent of those additional students ended up in jobs—as waitresses, electricians, secretaries, mail carriers—that have not historically required a degree.
A president’s central job is not policy wonk but national team captain. (New York Times)
A president’s central job is not as a policy wonk but as a national team captain. OR: A president’s central job is to be a national team captain, not a policy wonk.
In some especially disheveled sentences, the appositive is not even remotely compatible with the noun to which it is in apposition.
There were rejects of every kind—the drifters, the shabby genteel who had known better times. Their eyes were guilty with the recognition of impending defeat, ravaged faces barely crowned with thinning, silky hair, and musty clothes which needed changing. (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon [Pantheon], by Daniel Farson)
In the second sentence, the appositional phrasing ravaged faces barely crowned with thinning, silky hair, and musty clothes which needed changing is discordant with any of the three nouns (eyes, recognition, defeat) in the independent clause. The sentence calls for reconstructive surgery.
Their eyes were guilty with the recognition of impending defeat, their ravaged faces were barely crowned with thinning, silky hair, and their musty clothes needed changing.
The nonequivalent elements in a bungled sentence are not always a noun and an appositive. Sometimes, as in the nominative dependent clause ending the sentence below, a subject and its complements are nonequivalent.
By 1950 a quarter of married women in their prime were in the job market, but the census reported that the top women’s jobs were teacher, secretary, and nurse. (The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do [Portfolio], by Eduardo Porter)
. . . the top women’s jobs were teaching, secretarial work, and nursing. OR: . . . the top women’s jobs were as teachers, secretaries, and nurses.
In the next sentence, a reader is expected to accept as equivalents the subject of the independent clause (visit) and the object of a preposition (place) in the predicate.
A visit to the new restaurant was on my list as a place to take my parents when they visited recently from South Carolina. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The new restaurant was on my list as a place to take my parents when they visited recently from South Carolina.
In the longish sentence that follows, the writer unreasonably expects the reader to accept as equivalents the object of a preposition (meals) and the three objects of the participle including (drinkers, eater, and character).
Some of the most exotic and extraordinary meals that have ever appeared in the magazine have occurred in its fiction, including the melancholy drinkers in John Cheever, the erudite nineteenth-century eater in Julian Barnes’s “Bark” who “would discourse on the point of esculence of every foodstuff from capers to woodcock,” and the character in Alice McDermott whose sexual voraciousness is matched only by her taste for ice cream: “Pleasure is pleasure. If you have an appetite for it, you’ll find there’s plenty. Plenty to satisfy you—lick the back of the spoon. Take another, and another. Plenty. Never enough.” (Introduction to Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink [Modern Library], edited by David Remnick)
Drinkers, an eater, and a character are not meals.
Some of the most exotic and extraordinary meals that have ever appeared in the magazine have occurred in its fiction, where there have been places at the table for John Cheever’s melancholy drinkers; for the erudite nineteenth-century eater in Julian Barnes’s “Bark,” who “would discourse on the point of esculence of every foodstuff from capers to woodcock”; and for the character in Alice McDermott whose sexual voraciousness is matched only by her taste for ice cream. . . .

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