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Friday, April 25, 2008

Criminal Sentence 4: Misplaced Prepositional Phrase

From a book I was reading last night. It was written by a bestselling author.

"He dialed the number at the hospital of Dr. X."

This sentence suggests that Dr. X owns the hospital. When you use a prepositional phrase (such as "of Dr. X"), be aware of what comes directly before it. In this sentence, "of Dr. X" belongs with "number," not "hospital." Both "at the hospital" and "of Dr. X" are describing "the number." Only one phrase can follow it, so you have to rearrange the sentence's elements somewhat. I suggest you write "He dialed Dr. X's number at the hospital."

My husband says, "I read this as he dialed the hospital number where Dr. X works." Perhaps you could read it that way. In that case, you should aim for an even clearer sentence than what I suggested above. You don't want your sentence open to too many interpretations.

To eliminate any confusion, you could simply write "I called Dr. X at the hospital" (as opposed to "I called him at home").


Zachariah Parry said...

"He dialed Dr. X's number at the hospital" isn't much of an improvement. It is still ambiguous because it could mean he is dialing from the hospital or dialing from wherever to Dr. X's hospital number.

I suppose context may clear that up, though.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Hi, Zachariah. I didn't notice that. Shame on me. "I called Dr. X" probably would have been sufficient, don't you think? Or, "I knew Dr. X would be at the hospital, so I called him there."