Monday, November 14, 2005

Squinting modifiers

Do you know what a "squinting modifier" is? Read the quotation below and avoid squinting modifiers.

    A word capable of being read as modifying either the word it follows or the word it precedes is called a squinting modifier. Consider ambiguity this can produce:

    • The candidate the audience was applauding enthusiastically went to the podium.

    Was the audience applauding enthusiastically? Or was the candidate enthusiastically going to the podium?

    • The lawyer who can write well deserves her fee.

    Does "well" relate to her accomplishment or her entitlement?

    • The doctor agreed eventually to do the operation.

    Does this mean that the doctor took a long time to agree? Or does it mean that he agreed to do the operation at some uncertain future date?

    • My lawyer told me in August I would be released.

    Did the lawyer say that in August, or is August the projected date of release?
Thomas R. Haggard, The Scrivener: A Primer on Legal Writing 77-78 (2d ed., S.C. Bar 2000).

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