Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some dangling modifiers okay?

In this sentence, there's a dangling modifier:
  • Researching the issue, it became clear the courts had not addressed the question.
This is a classic dangler because the person doing the research is not named anywhere in the sentence. Most legal-writing types consider it a serious mistake.

But in The Fight for English, David Crystal says we're bent out of shape over nothing. No one in a million years, he says, would be confused here. It's obvious that an unnamed author is understood. Sure, dangling modifiers sometimes cause ambiguity:
  • Surrounded by barbed wire, armed soldiers guarded the prisoners from watchtowers.
Who is surrounded? The dangler makes it ambiguous. But in the first example, there's no ambiguity. Don't insist on an edit, Crystal says, that fixes what isn't broken, what isn't ambiguous.

What do you think?

David Crystal, The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left 153 (Oxford U. Press 2006).

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