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Given the sentence

Before starting the machine, mount the machine with the battery installed on the harness.

This could be taken to mean that
1) the battery is installed on the harness and the user is to mount the machine onto it
2) the battery is installed in the machine and the user is to mount the machine onto the harness
3) the battery is installed on the harness of the machine and the user is to mount the whole setup onto something not mentioned here,

depending on what the reader thinks "with the battery installed" modifies.

In linguistics, is there a technical term for this kind of grammatical situation? If so, what is it?

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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

These are called squinting modifiers

A squinting modifier is one that could modify either the word(s) before it or after it (i.e., it is ambiguously positioned in the sentence.) It is a "misplaced modifier."

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I've never heard that term before. Thank you! –  By137 Sep 28 '12 at 6:23
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