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I was interested in the sentence “After reviewing the special commissioner's report, it is obvious to me that Mr. Namnum abused his responsibility and privileges to secure a job for his wife, who was clearly unqualified,” which appeared in news article, titled “School Administrator Resigns After Inquiry Into Wife's Job,” on The New York Times (March 28, 2012).

The schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, issued a statement saying: "After reviewing the special commissioner's report, it is obvious to me that Mr. Namnum abused his responsibility and privileges to secure a job for his wife, who was clearly unqualified. No one at any level of government should be allowed to put his own self-interest ahead of his obligation to the city."

For a non-native English speaker, it seems more natural rewording the mentioned sentence in this way: "A review of the special commissioner's report provides evidence that Mr. Namnum abused ...".

Are there rules governing this strange grammatical structure (After reviewing ..., it ...)?

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  • Are you asking this question because the subject in the matrix clause is "it", whereas the agent (doer) of reviewing is a person - obviously not "it"?
    – Alex B.
    Jun 3 '12 at 20:17
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It's not uncommon, but OP's example is not grammatically correct - it's a dangling participle. Here's Grammar Girl's take on it, if you want to read more.

Grammatically speaking, the first word following the introductory clause “After reviewing the special commissioner's report" should be a noun (the subject, who did the reviewing). A valid rewording would be, for example, "After reviewing the...report, I find it obvious that...".

Some people may think it's pedantic to criticise such usage, but I think most careful writers (and even speakers) would avoid it.

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  • @Clark Kent: You are a gentleman and a scholar, sir! Jun 3 '12 at 21:04
  • @fumblefingers- I don't think you need a comma before the if statement.
    – Noah
    Jun 4 '12 at 6:27
  • @Noah: I never mentioned the comma. You're right that grammatically speaking it's not actually required. But in fact almost all competent writers would use it in this particular case, simply because what follows is a relatively complex construction which would otherwise be someone awkward to parse easily. Jun 4 '12 at 14:26
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It's grammatically correct. The word "After" indicates a subordinating conjunction.

In your example the clause

After reviewing the special commissioner's report

is the dependent clause. The dependent clause can't exist on it's on (it doesn't really make sense) and it's purpose is to add cause or background to the independent clause. But it does need an independent clause.

The independent clause:

it is obvious to me that Mr. Namnum abused his responsibility and privileges to secure a job for his wife, who was clearly unqualified.

... is a normal sentence which could be on its own. It just lacks the context like in this case the additional information on why it's obvious to the writer, that Mr. Mamnun abused his responsibility.

The independent clause doesn't require any special pronouns (like the it). For example, this sentence is grammatically valid:

After reviewing the special commissioner's report, my head started to hurt

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  • 2
    Nah. Your final example is also a "dangling participle", which is also ungrammatical to people who know and care about such things. Jun 3 '12 at 20:54
  • @FumbleFingers: I use my head to review these things, so it's probably (accidentally) OK. Jun 3 '12 at 22:46
  • @FumbleFingers: thank you for your comment - I haven't heard of dangling participles before so I'll certainly look into it.
    – vstm
    Jun 4 '12 at 7:26
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It's perfectly grammatical, but there is a long history of people who think there is something wrong with this quite normal construction, so if you don't want to fall foul of the self-appointed grammar police, you'd best avoid it.

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  • I know such constructions aren't uncommon, but I don't really see how you can say it's "perfectly grammatical". The participle reviewing has no subject. The fact that in this particular case there's no danger of misinterpreting an inappropriate subject ("Driving to work, the dog suddenly jumped in front of my car") doesn't affect the question of whether it's grammatical or not, imho. Jun 4 '12 at 15:09
  • And your evidence that in English a gerund (not a participle) needs a subject? "I didn't like reviewing the special commissioner's report".
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 4 '12 at 23:18
  • I simply cite as evidence the fact that "dangling participle" is a recognised term, and that OP's citation is an example thereof. You may think the term is a meaningless invention of the grammar police, but I recognise it, and I think it represents "less-than-perfect" use of language. Jun 5 '12 at 3:11
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    Yes, dangling participle is a recognised term, and some people object to it. The OP's citation is not one, since it doesn't contain a participle, dangling or not. Even if it were, "frowned on by self-appointed arbiters" is not the same as "ungrammatical".
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 5 '12 at 22:41
  • According to this, "Jamming too much in the washing machine will result in disaster" is a gerund phrase, whereas "Jamming too much in, John saved the cost of a second wash" is a present participle phrase describing John. If you want to say that's incorrect I'm not qualified to argue the toss, but so far as I'm concerned OP's sentence is an example of that second kind, where I think the subject is missing. Not because I care about rules of grammar as such; it just sounds wrong to me. Jun 6 '12 at 1:05
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Agree with Clark Kent:

The cited form sounds to me like an opinion statement. Nothing weird about it.

The second version sounds like the official statement made by a bureaucrat for public consumption without "owning up" to his words.

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    Hmm. Bear in mind even Clark Kent no longer agrees with Clark Kent. OP's construction is definitely a well-known "grammatical error", even if you don't consider this a serious failing. Jun 3 '12 at 21:06

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