1

I was recently told in class that this sentence is correct:

"He reprogrammed the system, and in doing so, we lost crucial data."

It just doesn't feel right to me - my intuition is that the subject on both sides of "in doing so" should be the same. Something like "He reprogrammed the system, and in doing so, caused us to lose crucial data."

Is my intuition off, or is the original sentence wrong?

  • I agree with you... but someone else will have to tell us why it's wrong – d'alar'cop Feb 26 '14 at 9:25
  • I also agree with you. I would love to see someone explain how this sentence can possibly be correct. – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 9:27
  • @oerkelens Dangling participle apparently. – d'alar'cop Feb 26 '14 at 12:19
  • So the original sentence is "correct" if we interpret it as containing what is usually considered an error. – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 12:24
4

The conjunction and introduces a new independent clause, opening with the phrase in doing so and with we as its subject. However the subject we is not the same as the implied subject of the doing, resulting in a classic example of a dangling participle.

The OP's sentence is not as egregious as the following similar constructions found in a quick internet search, but a careful writer would probably want to rewrite it as the OP suggests:

Travelling to Finland, the weather got colder and colder.

Rushing to the catch the bus, Bob's wallet fell out of his pocket.

Walking back home yesterday, a tree nearly fell on my head.

Flitting gaily from flower to flower, the football player watched the bee.

  • I still would not qualify a phrase with a dangling participle as "correct". As in the examples you give, the intended meaning of the sentence is obscured, which, if not used for obvious stylistic purposes, I would always consider as going against the basic idea of communication by language. Yes, I see the dangling subject, but no, I still don't see how it makes the OP's sentence "correct". – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 12:26
  • @oerkelens I believe Shoe's point was that the OP's suggested correction was unambiguous and removes the dangliation (to coin a horrible word). – Carl Witthoft Feb 26 '14 at 12:41
  • I understand that, but the OP asked if the original sentence was wrong, as he was told it was correct. Some people were wondering how it could be correct - consensus seems to be that it is clearly not, and that whoever told the OP it was correct did so erroneously. – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 12:48
  • @oerkelens, I regard the problem in the OP's original sentence as one of poor style rather than incorrect grammar. Garner in Modern American Usage calls danglers "sloppy"; Peters in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage calls them "peccadillos". She goes on to say: "If the phrase works in the context of discourse and draws no attention to itself, there's no reason to treat it like a cancer in need of excision." I don't particularly like her analogy, but I agree with the sentiment. – Shoe Feb 26 '14 at 13:14
  • There is a gap between "it's sloppy, but hey, if it works, who cares" and "this sentence is correct". But I think the consensus is clear: the OP's idea that the sentence was at least in for a good rewrite was correct. :) – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 13:23

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