I have a fairly good sense of what is and isn't correct in terms of grammar, but that's mostly through feeling, rather than hard knowledge of the rules. My formal knowledge of the English Language only goes as far as GCSE and that is already a long time ago.

Normally, I'm the person who sorts out typos and grammatical blunders in company documents, but "an innate ability" to know whether something is right seems to get on people's nerves.

So I'm hoping to learn some of the technicalities with regards to bad grammar, using this paragraph from a job description that I was checking.

You’ll continuously improve the product and your skills via active involvement with the community. Small projects can act as a sandbox where appropriate to allow you to evaluate these techniques, from a new framework to a pre-processor language.

It's clear what it means, but it somehow feels wrong. If I was going to rewrite this, it would look something like:

You will continuously improve both the product and your skills through active involvement within the community. Where appropriate, small projects can act as sandboxes for learning and evaluating new frameworks or pre-processor languages.

What exactly, is wrong with the original quote and what is a reasonable way to explain that to someone without coming across as pretentious?

  • 6
    It's an attachment ambiguity. Probly needs commas around the parenthetical where appropriate; that links up the VPs can act as a sandbox and to allow you to evaluate and identifies the second one as a purpose infinitive modifying sandbox, not appropriate, which wouldn't work. Commented May 28, 2015 at 16:35
  • (A) "where appropriate" is wrongly placed in written format, though in speech , that may be "allowed", eg as an afterthought to what you already said. In a written JobDescription, it must be at the start of the sentence. (B) I feel that "from a new framework to a pre-processor language" refers to "small projects", so that may be written as "Where appropriate, small projects (like new frameworks or pre-processor languages) can act as sandboxes to allow you to evaluate these techniques", implying that he can go to enterprise tools or bigger projects only when he has become an expert.
    – Prem
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 16:49

1 Answer 1


The second sentence is structured in such a way as to encourage an initial parsing attempt that is actually invalid. (In other words, it is a "Garden Path Sentence".)

The phrasing of "Small projects can act as a sandbox where ..." invites a natural reading that the phrase headed by where is about to tell you what you can do in the sandbox. As you progress, however, "where appropriate to allow you" clearly cannot describe a property of the sandbox; this forces you to stop, backtrack, and actively work to parse the sentence correctly despite its misleading formation.

This structure pretty much guarantees a break in the flow of the reader, a loss of concentration, and a transfer of focus from what is being said to how it is being said, all of which are negatives for a passage that is trying to communicate effectively.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.