I want to correct the following sentence so that it is grammatically correct and still conveys the original meaning:

Many alcoholics attempt to conceal their problem from their fellow workers, but invariably failing to keep their secret.

The bold-faced part of this sentence is where the error occurs.

It would be great if you guys could help me decide between these two choices.:

  1. but they invariably fail to keep their secret.
  2. but fail, invariably, to keep their secret.

1 is good but lacks parallelism and is not as succinct (short and clear) as 2.

But the problem with 2 is its awkward adverb placement that might affect the original meaning.

  • I would use (3), ...but invariably fail to keep their secret. Preserves the parallelism and omits the superfluous they which simply refers to "many alcoholics".
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:04
  • @AndrewLeach, what is the difference if the adverb is placed before and after "fail"? Sep 15, 2015 at 13:12
  • 1
    As an opponent of split infinitives, I would parse fail invariably to keep as linking the adverb with keep rather than fail (that is, "but fail to invariably keep their secret" if the infinitive can be split), which is subtly different.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:15
  • So any adverb that goes between two verbs are ambiguous? Sep 15, 2015 at 13:20
  • 3
    The main problem with the sentence is not the placement of the adverb. It's the use of 'failing' instead of 'fail' Sep 15, 2015 at 13:20

1 Answer 1

  1. but they invariably fail to keep their secret.
  2. but fail, invariably to keep their secret.
  1. is correct but would be better without the repeated 'they'. Note that 'invariably' qualifies 'fail', i.e. 'they invariably fail'.

  2. is slightly odd because the comma places 'invariably' with 'keep'. The sentence now means that they don't keep their secret in an invariable manner. That has no meaning that I can understand.

Therefore the answer must be 1.

  • In fail to keep invariably the secret, does invariably also modifies "keep"? Is it a rule that adverbs also modify verbs that are placed immediately after them? Sep 15, 2015 at 13:45
  • I would say that, purely because of the comma, 'invariably' only modifies 'keep'. That is why I say the sentence doesn't make sense that way. The presence of the comma separates the adverb from 'fail' and yet clearly 'fail' is the verb that makes sense. Sep 15, 2015 at 13:48
  • sorry I forgot to place the other comma. Sep 15, 2015 at 13:54
  • In that case I don't particularly like either option. However, at least they are both possible now. Sep 15, 2015 at 13:58

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