The example is :

SETI scientists are trying to find a life form that resembles humans (in many ways).

What is the subject of the adverbial phrase in bracket? Is find or resembles?


As the comments suggest, we want to put modifying phrases where they belong.

So, if scientists are using a variety of techniques to discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe:

SETI scientists are trying in many ways to find a life form that resembles humans.

If scientists want to find a creature that walks upright, has two eyes, a brain, uses language, produces live offspring, and so forth:

SETI scientists are trying to find a life form that resembles humans in many respects.

(Using the word "respects" makes it even clearer that the phrase refers to qualities or characteristics; "ways" could refer to a manner of undertaking; but the position at the end of the sentence should be enough to let the listener or reader know that it modifies "humans".)


The adverbial "in many ways" here adverbially modifies the verb "resembles". To see why, note that it answers the question "How is it supposed to resemble humans?". If it was intended to modify "try" or "find", it would be much better to use "by many ways" to preclude construing it with "resembles", but it is certainly possible if the context points towards that, since "in" can be used for indirect agents.

  • Why would it be "better" to say trying. . . by many ways? IMHO, trying. . .in many ways is at least as good. Now, if it were "methods" rather than "ways", clearly by many methods would be better, but of course there would have been no doubt about what the adverbial phrase modifies if it had said by many methods. – Brian Hitchcock May 3 '15 at 7:51
  • @BrianHitchcock: Using "by" just serves to exclude the possibility of it modifying "resembles", so it would be preferable if that was intended. – user21820 May 3 '15 at 7:56
  • Yes, I see. But it would be BEST to put the modifier next to the thing it modifies. Then neither "in" nor "by" would be ambiguous. But In the placement as given (parenthetical at end of sentence), "by" would be bizarre. – Brian Hitchcock May 3 '15 at 9:06
  • @BrianHitchcock: Haha. Yes indeed the position makes it all the more likely that it was meant to modify "resembles". – user21820 May 3 '15 at 9:09

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