Tag Archives: Adverbs

The Squinting Modifier

What Is a Squinting Modifier?

When an adverb or phrase is placed in a sentence so that it can be interpreted as modifying either the words before or after it, then it’s called a “squinting modifier.” Take a look at this example:

Running long distances quickly builds my endurance.

It’s a little hard to tell what this sentence means. Is the person running long distances quickly? Or quickly building their endurance? The squinting modifier here is the word “quickly.” Its position in the sentence makes the meaning murky. Here are some more examples:

Taking time to think clearly improves your test scores.

Helping people often brings pride.

I told my grandma this morning I would visit.

Squinting modifiers are always sandwiched in between two words or phrases. That’s why they’re sometimes called “two-way modifiers.”

Other misplaced modifiers don’t need to be in between two words and phrases. For example, take this famous joke from comedian Groucho Marx:

“One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I’ll never know!”

In this case, the ambiguity of the misplaced phrase “in my pajamas” is being played for laughs. But, typically, misplaced modifiers do only one thing — confuse a sentence. They make the meaning ambiguous or wrong and should be avoided, unless you’re Groucho Marx.

How to Fix a Squinting Modifier

When speaking, squinting modifiers are rarely an issue because you can convey the meaning with your voice and tone, but writing is a different story.

It may be hard for writers to spot squinting modifiers in their own work. Of course, as the author, you know what you mean. Readers will get confused more easily. Pay attention to adverbs and be wary of words like “only” and “often,” which can subtly change the meaning of a sentence.

Once you spot a squinting modifier, you can usually fix it by rearranging the words in the sentence.

Bad: Having a baby often changes your life.

Better: Often, having a baby changes your life.

Bad: Beating eggs rapidly creates a whipped foam.

Better: Rapidly beating eggs creates a whipped foam.

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Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctions are words that link words, phrases, and clauses and provide a smooth transition between ideas.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Some adverbs can also join or show connections between ideas. When they do this, they are called conjunctive adverbs.

Conjunctive adverbs show comparison, contrast, sequence, cause-effect, or other relationships between ideas.

The most common conjunctive adverbs are:

accordingly
also
besides
consequently
conversely
finally
furthermore
hence
however
indeed
instead
likewise
meanwhile
moreover
nevertheless
next
nonetheless
otherwise
similarly
still
subsequently
then
therefore
thus

Conjunctive adverbs function in three ways.

1. They indicate a connection between two independent clauses in one sentence:

The primary meaning of the term ḥeḥ was “million” or “millions”; subsequently, a personification of Ḥeḥ was adopted as the Egyptian god of infinity.

In this explanation of why a particular word was personified the way it was, subsequently joins the ideas and conveys sequence at the same time. The word heh means millions; it follows that the personification derived from heh would be a god of infinity.

2. They link ideas in two or more sentences.

Democracy has empowered thousands upon thousands of the “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish,” who come from a mix of different nationalities. All hope is not lost, however, since there are “hundreds who are wise.”

 

In this quotation from a speech by Woodrow Wilson, the however connects and contrasts “thousands of foolish citizens” in the first sentence with “hundreds who are wise” in the second sentence.

3. They show relationships between ideas within an independent clause.

We are determined to do whatever must be done in the interest of this country and, indeed, in the interest of all to protect the dollar as a convertible currency at its current fixed rate.

In this quotation from a speech by John F. Kennedy, indeed connects ideas within the sentence: the idea of doing something on a national level and on an international level as well.

Punctuation note: A conjunctive adverb within a sentence is set off by commas. A conjunctive adverb that begins or ends a sentence is set off by one comma:

Therefore, let us reconsider this legislation that marginalizes a large proportion of employees.

You were late for the fifth time today; you are dismissed, therefore.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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