2

An example: the sentence

"Upon finishing these books, I think the reader has a new perspective on history."

Taken literally, it could mean that "I, upon finishing these books, think..." Or it could mean "The reader, upon finishing these books, has a new perspective on history; in my opinion."

Even though the second is pretty clearly the intended meaning, I'd like to call this error what it is.

Thus, I am wondering what this error is called. I'm drawn to making up a name like "spliced verb" or some such, but I'd prefer to be certain.

I know it ought not really matter; but still I'd like as technical and SNOOTy a label as possible.

Many thanks.

  • I don't think there's an official term, but I'd call it "Failure of clarity" since it fails to be clear. – Pharap Sep 6 '13 at 2:49
  • Thank you - that would be entirely suitable if I were grading, but I'm quoting a well-known writer with the intent of challenging his view. Said writer was something of a usage pundit; I plan to insert a parenthetical comment such as "(N.B.: spliced verb <em>sic</em>)" as a form of highbrow sass. – Annick Sep 6 '13 at 2:51
  • Why do you assume that the answer is just one of 1 or 2? If it's 1 and 2 then the text is perfectly clear. How could he be commenting if he had not read it? He's generalizing his experience onto everyone. – dcaswell Sep 6 '13 at 2:57
  • I disagree. Even if the intent was to allow both interpretations, the fact that there is ambiguity means that the sentence could be improved. However, this is actually a paraphrase of a sentence that was very definitely intended for the second interpretation; there's a real error here. – Annick Sep 6 '13 at 3:02
  • I'm tempted to say reply with something mocking like "Upon consuming 20 tubs of lard, I think my brother has a stomach ache." to show the sentence's failing, but I don't think that would fit the tone of the response. This might help though, it seems that the sentence may in part be a "Misuse of passive voice": writeyourbest.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/… – Pharap Sep 6 '13 at 3:14
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The sentence contains an example of a dangling modifier. Here is the opening text of the Wikipedia article of the same name:

A dangling modifier (a specific case of which is the dangling participle) is an ambiguous grammatical construct, often considered an error in prescriptivist accounts of English, whereby a grammatical modifier could be misinterpreted as being associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangling_modifier

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