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Grammar Mississippi

- The Squinting Modifier -

A final example of a misplaced modifier is the squinting modifier:

    Rivers that carry silt frequently form new deltas.

Because the modifier frequently can look to either side, it is said to squint. The reader is left to figure out which direction is intended: frequently carry or frequently form. This needless confusion is easily fixed with a rewrite:

    Rivers that carry silt form new deltas frequently.

Consider the underlined modifier in the following sentence:

    The Mississippi River may, if it is allowed to flow uncontrolled, change course and form a new delta.

Technically, this modifier is not misplaced and it is not dangling. But it can cause confusion for the reader simply because it disrupts the flow of the sentence. When we find disruptive modifiers in our sentences, we should try to recast the sentence for easier reading:

    If it is allowed to flow uncontrolled, the Mississippi River may change course and form a new delta.

Our last example of a modifier is technically a problem:

    Speaking of deltas, the Mississippi may someday form one along the Atchafalaya.

Obviously the Mississippi does not speak. But because this phrase has such a wide reference and is so widely accepted, it is not likely to confuse readers. The same is usually true for the following phrases:

    Assuming X, ...
    Considering X,...
    Owing to X, ...
    Strictly speaking, ...


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