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"From an original focus on the oil industry, Platts gradually expanded its purview to include metals, shipping, and all energy-related markets - oil, coal, natural gas, electricity, nuclear power, petrochemicals, renewables, and emissions."

So I was looking at the Platts website while applying for a job, and came across this line. Should it be reworded to "From originally focusing on the oil industry..." or "From an original focus on the oil industry, Platts' purview gradually expanded..."

Or is it not a dangling modifier at all?

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    "Dangling" is not really a grammatical term; it's pejorative instead of descriptive. The prepositional phrase in question appears at the beginning of the sentence, instead of following the NP it modifies, but this is not ungrammatical. Adverbials like prepositional phrases can niche in many places in a sentence, and that variability is exploited by writers to give cues for readers' interpretation. Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 17:49
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it looks like a peeve. Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 18:39
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    No, it's just uninformed, like most of the questions we get. There's a lot of BS that's taught under the label of "English grammar", and most people believe what they're taught in class, unfortunately. Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 20:05

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No, this is not a dangling modifier, because it is not a modifier at all. It does not modify anything in the sentence.

What it is is a constituent that has been moved the front of the sentence (or fronted), either for some sort of emphasis or for vague reasons of euphony. Fronting sentence constituents is exceedingly common in nearly all languages. A dangling modifier, on the other hand, is a sentence constituent that is supposed to modify another sentence constituent, but is placed somewhere in the sentence where it becomes unclear or ambiguous which other sentence constituent it is supposed to modify.

In this example, we are dealing with the verb expand, which has quite a broad set of valency options. It can be either monovalent (have only one argument, the subject) or polyvalent (have additional arguments). The ‘additional arguments’ include a direct object (probably the most common one), but since expand describes a change from one state to another, both these states are also common arguments to use with the verb, normally indicated with the prepositions from and to. All these arguments are unlimitedly optional (i.e., it doesn’t have to be that if one of them is present, another one has to be as well).

In other words, you can show the possible phrase structures as:

ARGsubject + EXPAND + (ARGobject) + (ARGorigin) + (ARGresult)

In your example, ARGorigin has been moved away from its place in the sentence and fronted—but it is still an argument to the verb EXPAND. There is nothing in the sentence that “from an original focus on the oil industry” could possibly modify. If you un-front the argument, you would simply have the following sentence:

Platts gradually expanded its purview from an original focus on the oil industry to include metals, shipping, and all energy-related markets—oil, coal, natural gas, electricity, nuclear power, petrochemicals, renewables, and emissions.

Note that “to include metals …” is not really ARGresult as such: rather it is a shorter form of “in order to include metals …”. This works just fine when the origin is fronted, but becomes clumsy when the origin is reintroduced into the sentence. Remember that origin is normally from X, while result is normally to X. The fact that reintroducing the origin means you end up with EXPAND + from X to Y makes you automatically interpret the word to as the logical counterpart to from—which it isn’t here.

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