Motivated by A, we outline our proposal for B.

Does "Motivated" refer to outline or proposal? It seems to me that a reader could infer one of two statements:

  1. A motivated us to create this outline, or
  2. A motivated us to create this proposal

As the author of this sentence, I am struggling a bit in how to fix the ambiguity, especially if (for other reasons) I would like to keep A in an introductory phrase.

From common sense, I suspect most readers would infer meaning #2 -- the intended one by the author. But, from a grammar point of view, I am not sure if the introductory phrase has to refer to the verb (outline) or it could just as well refer to the object (proposal)? So does such a construction always modify the verb? Or how could we specify if we wanted to modify the object only?

I.e., how could we cleanly manage the ambiguity in favor of meaning #2?

  • 2
    A motivated us. To do what depends on context, and possibly A. "Motivated by greed, we outline our proposal to found this startup." Greed motivated us to found the startup, and the outline is just a means to an end. "Motivated by a desire for detailed planning, we outline our proposal to found this startup." We were planning to found the startup, and being detail-oriented motivated us to write up this outline rather than shooting from the hip. – Kevin Feb 14 '19 at 1:06
  • Right, so it makes sense that motivated modified us, but is there a way, besides context, since this may be ambiguous, to point out if it was for the verb object? – AimForClarity Feb 14 '19 at 1:14
  • 1
    Not universally, no. Especially not for #2, I'd say meaning 1 is generally much more likely. – Kevin Feb 14 '19 at 1:17

"Outline" in this usage is a verb and it has nothing actually to do with "creating an outline". Your two example sentences completely change the meaning of the source sentence.

A motivated us to outline our proposal for B.

This doesn't mean quite the same thing as the source sentence but is close enough for your stated purpose. The subject ("us") is motivated to outline, not motivated to create an outline.

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