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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Criminal Sentence 133: Sentence Disconnect

From a book I'm reading (farmers are recovering from a flood):

"Cattle and sheep are gone that the farmers thought were on safe ground."

This is one of those annoying misplaced modifiers that makes me do a double take because the sentence is so disconnected. When you have a "that" phrase (which should modify a noun) right after a verb, the sentence makes no sense: "the gone that did such and such" is just not possible.

In my view, it's not that hard to rearrange such sentences:

"Cattle and sheep that the farmers thought were on safe ground are gone."

When a "that" (or "who") phrase follows a verb, get used to cringing, and please don't do that yourself.

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