There are few things that enrage a copy editor more than misplaced clauses. I reckon they ought to enrage everyday folks as well, but copy editors--whose job it is to defend the language!--are particularly sensitive to this literary offence.

Here we go: a clause is a part of a sentence that can stand alone as a logical unit. Anyone can break a sentence down into words...but it takes a grammatically inclined individual to break it down into clauses. An example:

"That which does not kill me"

is a clause. It's one part of the sentence, a logical whole in its own right. A clause can operate as a part of the sentence, in this case, the subject of the sentence, "That which does not kill me makes me very ill."

The problem is, clauses are often misplaced and this makes copy editors angry. We feel it ought to make humanity at large very angry as well. An example:

"After stirring Everything, these nodes rose to the top."

This sentence clearly says that "these nodes" stirred Everything. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What's meant is that "After Everything was stirred, these nodes rose to the top." But that's the passive voice...some might prefer, "After we stirred Everything, these nodes rose to the top." Well and good. As long as the nodes themselves did not stir Everything.

Other good examples from local news reports:

"After speaking with the victims, they'll rebuild their house no matter what."

Okay, I unnerstan they'll rebuild. But the damn sentence, as written, says that "they" spoke to the victims, "they" of course being the victims themselves. Such logic is ill.

"Once finished with the cleanup, we went to the newly reopened park to see for ourselves whether there was any evidence of lead or arsenic in the soil."

While it's noble of the news media to check up on a park that's been contaminated, it's utterly wrong for them to say they finished the cleanup. That's what that headline reads, "once finished with the cleanup" is a describer of the next actor, i.e. "we," which, of course, means the media with their prying cameras. But of course, it wasn't "we" who did the actual cleanup.

The proper statement would have been, "Once the polluting swine finished the cleanup, we reported it."

That's my case. Put your clauses where you mean them, people.


Submitting a couple good, humorous examples, tdent helps clarify the point:

"Rich, creamy and tinged with vanilla, your dinner guests will never guess that this cake is low fat."

"Baring his crimson buttocks and uttering loud hoots of excitement, the cameraman crept towards the male baboon."


Another howler from a local news report:

"Missing for more than 24 hours, police think she is in serious danger."

Let's see...whom do you call when the police themselves go missing? We're all in serious danger now, I reckon.

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