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"For a celebrated actor, I was surprised at how ordinary he was." The "celebrated actor" refers, of course, to "he" (not "I"). However it seems to me the grammatical construction is wrong. By substituting the preposition "for" with "as" to read "As a celebrated actor, I was surprised at how ordinary he was," is now grammatically correct but drastically changes the meaning. How can I say what I want to say in plain conversational English?

  • Er, what is it that you want to say? What's wrong with "for"? – Greg Lee Feb 3 '15 at 22:11
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    Why not just move the modifying phrase, thus: I was surprised at how ordinary he was, for a celebrated actor. – Rusty Tuba Feb 3 '15 at 23:54
  • It's fine as is, though I might have written "Though he was a celebrated actor, I was surprised at how ordinary he was." (To my ear inverting the order as others suggest really takes the "punch" out of it.) – Hot Licks Feb 4 '15 at 2:03
  • I completely agree. To let the reader know he is a celebrated actor at the beginning brings anticipation to the sentence. Grammatically correct or not, it has to remain as it is. – Peter Plant Feb 5 '15 at 0:50
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For a celebrated actor, I was surprised at how ordinary he was.

This is a perfectly acceptable use of for indicating a comparison, and it's pretty clear that he is the actor (although in theory it could refer to the I, in practice the choice of for over as would leave no doubt in the mind of the audience). If you wanted to make it doubly clear, you could change the order:

I was surprised at how ordinary he was for a celebrated actor.

  • Apart from This is a perfectly acceptable use of for indicating a comparison, I didn't understand this explanation at all. – andy256 Feb 3 '15 at 23:41
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The way the sentence is written "for a celebrated actor" modifies "I", which is not the intended meaning. This is called a dangling modifier.

The following sentences avoid this ambiguity:

I was surprised that for a celebrated actor, he was pretty/rather/quite ordinary.

I was surprised that he was such an ordinary guy, despite being a celebrated actor.

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In writing, I don't have a huge problem with your original formulation. I can't see a way to rearrange things that makes it clearer without making it more awkward.

For conversational English though, its way too long-winded. If I was just talking to my buds, it would be more like, "I was shocked. He's just a regular guy, not some hoity-toity1 celebrity."

1 - Sprinkle expletives to taste.

  • Thanks for reply. But you assume celebrities are hoity-toity. And why am I suddenly shocked instead of merely surprised? – Peter Plant Feb 5 '15 at 0:54

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