For a printable copy, click here: Avoiding Ambiguity
I. Unclear Pronoun Reference
Avoid broad reference of this, that, which, and it.
- a. More and more often, especially in large companies, we are finding ourselves victims of alienation. We learn to accept this with minor gripes and groans.
- b. More and more often, especially in large companies, we are finding ourselves victims of alienation. We learn to accept our fate with minor gripes and groans.
- a. Both the manager and technician were too new to have acquired much wisdom, which accounts for their rash actions.
- b. Both the manager and technician were too new to have acquired much wisdom. Their inexperience in working with the machinery and with each other accounts for their rash actions.
Avoid using a pronoun to refer to an implied antecedent.
- a. After repairing the break, Sue sanded it clean.
- b. After repairing the break, Sue sanded the repaired surface.
- a. The gas filters for these tanks are so dirty that they should not be used.
- b. The gas filters are so dirty that they should not be used.
- c. These gas filter are so dirty that the tanks should not be used.
- a. Following the breakup of AT&T, many other companies began to offer long-distance phone service. This has led to lower long-distance rates.
- b. Following the breakup of AT&T, many other companies began to offer long-distance phone service. The competition has led to lower long-distance rates.
Correct the following:
- He hadn’t finished the project, which made him very frustrated.
- The artist removed the bloodstained shawl from the body and then copied it to another file.
- All students can secure parking permits from the campus security office; they are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
- The program was clunky and confusing to users, but we thought it would smooth itself out.
- When the delivery worker put the computer on the table, it collapsed.
- If you need a used computer, visit the Mac booth in the conference center, where they are still working.
II. Misplaced modifiers
Place phrases and clauses so that readers can see at a glance what they modify.
- a. The Japanese CEO returned to the clinic where he had undergone heart surgery in 1992 in a limousine sent by the White House.
- b. Traveling in a limousine sent by the White House, the Japanese CEO returned to the clinic where he had undergone heart surgery in 1992.
- a. There are many pictures of past award-winning managers who have worked here on these walls.
- b. On these walls, there are many pictures of past award-winning managers who have worked here.
- a. The international machine operators we met for coffee occasionally questioned us about our latest slang.
- b. The international machine operators we occasionally met for coffee questioned us about our latest slang.
- c. The international machine operators we met for coffee questioned us occasionally about our latest slang.
Make sure modifiers refer logically to a word in the sentence.
- a. Deciding to join the navy, the recruiter enthusiastically pumped Joe’s hand.
- b. When Joe decided to join the Navy, the recruiter enthusiastically pumped his hand.
- c. Deciding to join the navy, Joe shook the enthusiastic recruiter’s hand.
- a. Upon seeing the barricade, our car screeched to a halt.
- b. When we saw the barricade, we screeched to a halt.
- c. Upon seeing the barricade, we braked to a screeching halt.
- a. Though only sixteen, Kodak accepted Martha’s application.
- b. Though only sixteen, Martha was accepted for an interview with Kodak.
- c. Martha’s application was accepted by Kodak although she was only sixteen.
Correct the misplaced and squinting modifiers.
- As a computer graphic communications major with emphasis on web design and networking, such a topic is crucial to my career.
- Assistive technology has helped the disabled mentally by helping their self-esteem, their independence, their self-expression, and their participation.
- After formulating the research, the solution to the implementation involves a three-stage process.
- Families hoping that the soldiers will come home soon will hear some news.
- Journalists must be able to operate equipment used to produce the stories such as computers.
- When preparing copy for the typesetter or when correcting errors on the screen, the cursor can be easily moved with the mouse.
- You can call the office and tell the accountant about Mr. Jacobson’s charging the dinner to our account for just 10 cents a minute. The accountant will record the charge in the book that was in San Francisco. There will then be an entry in our records for the charge.
- 8. All the members of the club were not present. For example, John only came at 9:00 to play blackjack. After playing for a few minutes, a few more came in to watch him.