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We're given transcripts of interviews with women that we then turn into TV commercials. The lady says this:

"My washing powder will help me achieve my dreams by looking neat and presentable every day."

My problem with it is that it assumes the washing powder is looking neat and presentable.

I don't know if I'm being too anal. Is this sentence conversationally forgivable or is it grammatically incorrect?

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  • What really is meant by "conversationally forgivable"? – Kris Mar 6 '14 at 9:18
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    @Kris: I guess it means you do not get shot when you utter the sentence in a conversation. – oerkelens Mar 6 '14 at 9:59
  • Out of interest are the interviews actually real to any degree at all? Surely it's all scripted? – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 31 '14 at 23:11
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It is technically incorrect -- that's called a misplaced modifier. It would be better to say something like, "My washing powder will help me achieve my dreams by letting me look neat and presentable every day."

You're exactly right that, as it was in the commercial, this sentence implies that the powder looks neat. You may also be right that you're a little anal, because people say things like this all the time, and most people never seem to notice. They stick out like a sore thumb to me, though, and kinda bug me!

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  • Why is that modifier misplaced? Wouldn't "I achieve my dreams by looking presentable" be correct? And isn't this simply the normal "A helps B do X" construction on top of this? Or is there a rule that the X mustn't contain modifiers? – Kilian Foth Mar 6 '14 at 9:50
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    She actually only needs to change one word.Substitute 'of' for 'by' and it makes sense. – WS2 Mar 6 '14 at 10:12
  • It's a squinting modifier. He once threatened a man with a boxer. What is 'with a boxer' modifying? Similarly, is OP's 'by looking neat and presentable every day' modifying 'My washing powder will help me achieve my dreams' or solely 'achieve my dreams'? (Here, semantic requirements make the choice obvious). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 6 '14 at 11:37
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It definitely gives an impression that the powder looks neat and presentable. Especially, in written form, it gives this wrong impression.

One can say:

My washing powder has transformed my dreams to reality as I look absolutely neat and presentable everyday.

(an alternative)

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