Blog Post

Mangled modifiers

I’ve been focusing a bit on modifiers recently – those bits of sentences that add extra detail or explanation. I’m amazed at how often they’re put in a spot that’s awkward or confusing.

Take this sentence – which I heard on an ABC news report last week:

  • ‘There had been very little awareness for a flood in the community.’

I’m pretty sure that they intended for the community to have the awareness, rather than the community to have the flood. This means that the sentence would have been better written as:

  • ‘There had been very little awareness in the community for a flood.’

The message here is that modifiers need to be close to the thing that they relate to. (And as an aside, ‘about’ would have been a better choice than ‘for’.)

Here’s another example, from the front page of the latest ‘Living in Brisbane’ magazine:

  • ‘For the past seven years I have worked side by side with Campbell Newman, as his deputy, to deliver better roads for Brisbane’s suburbs, more than 500 new buses, and the biggest environmental program of any Council if Australia, which involves bushland preservation, a carbon offset plan for all Council’s fleet (including buses) and the planting of two million trees.’

This sentence is long and convoluted. It includes a list of three things that have been delivered in Brisbane: roads, buses, and an environmental program. But for some reason, we’re then given an explanation of the environmental program as part of the same sentence.

The explanation of the environmental program needs to be separated off. Ideally, each item of the list should be given the same treatment – either by explaining them all, or by explaining none. One option would be to use bullet points, and give a short explanation of each achievement. Another option would be to deal with the environmental achievements in a separate section.

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