Submitted by Jasper  •  January 1, 2013

Misplaced clauses?

Can clauses be misplaced because I always thought that they were superordinate of that. While searching for math accuplacer questions, I was given a set of problems, which I did not want, and, in boredom, did the first one and was wrong. The question was this:

Select the best substitute for the parenthesized parts of the following ten sentences. The first answer [choice A] is identical to the original sentence. If you think the original sentence is best, then choose A as your answer.

Question 1:

Although she was only sixteen years old, (the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades).

  A. the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades.

  B. her application was accepted by the university because of her outstanding grades.

  C. her outstanding grades resulted in her application being accepted by the university.

  D. she was accepted to study at the university after applying because of her outstanding grades.

I chose A, but it said D was the correct answer on these grounds:

The clause Although she was only sixteen years old describes the characteristics of the female student. Remember that clauses always need to be followed by the name of the person or thing they are describing. Therefore, “she” needs to come after this clause.

So, to reiterate, is there such a thing as misplaced clauses?

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@Thredder - Good point. I think it's because they've added stuff like "to study" and "after applying", which weren't in the original, that makes it clumsy. If they'd kept it more like the original, I think it would have been OK.

Original - Although she was only sixteen years old, (the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades).

D (amended) - Although she was only sixteen years old, she was accepted by the university because of her outstanding grades.

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I wouldn't say this is about misplaced clauses in the sense of misplaced or dangling or misplaced modifiers, but rather about the organisation of information.

Linguists suggest that in English we like to start sentences (or clauses) with known or given information, and put new in formation to the end. We find this easier to process. Steven Pinker gives this as one reason why the passive is sometimes the way to go (as here).

In this case "she" is the given, known information, while "the university" is new information, so it makes sense to start the new clause with the person or thing we are already talking about, "she". On the other hand, if this had come from a discussion on the university's admissions policy, choice (A) might well have been the best. It rather depends on context.

They talk about the best answer, not the correct answer and the others aren't grammatically incorrect, and I wouldn't say that "she" 'needs' to come after this clause. It's nonsense to say that clauses 'always' need to be followed by the name of the person or thing they are describing, otherwise we couldn't say something like - "Although the weather was awful, we had a really good time". I think they've maybe got a bit confused with participle clauses or elliptical clauses without an explicit subject, such as:

Although being only sixteen years old, ...
Although only sixteen years old, ...

Then it is best to follow them with "she", unless you want to annoy the dangler hunters.

Incidentally, I did the next eleven language and comprehension questions, and they are rather more straightforward.

http://demo-test.accuplacer-test.com/

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I don't have any hard-core linguistics books, but a couple of more general ones - David Crystal - The Stories of English, and Steven Pinker - The Language Instinct.

Since taking part in this forum, I've bought myself a couple of usage guides - the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, which is wonderful (and the whole thing is in Google Boooks), and the New Fowler's by Robert Burchfield. As an English teacher for foreigners, I rely heavily on Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan.

For everything else I use the Internet. For example here's a piece on information structure:

http://languagetools.info/grammarpedia/infostru...

I also follow quite a few linguistics blogs:
Language Log
Separated by a Common Language
Arrant Pedantry
Motivated Grammar
Sentence First

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Something seems to have gone wrong with my organisation of information in the first sentence there!

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Thank you, Warsaw Will.

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Warsaw Will,
What kind of linguist books do have? I wish to get a few extra English books.

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Jasper, I would also have said that 'A' was the most natural in English.
Choice 'D' seems quite clumsy to me.

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First, I'd like to point out that I write fiction. I also copy-edit a lot fiction, and answer A would almost always be changed, just because of the comical mistakes that come up. I've been part of the same writing group for twenty years (both fiction and nonfiction), and these types of phrases come up all the time, usually with some laughter and confusion, followed by some rewriting.

I thought D might be the most complete answer to the original question, but definitely clumsy. I like Warsaw Will's rewritten answer D. But just so you know what I'm referring to as comical, here is an example.

"Although she was only six, the dog accepted her anyway." In this case we are talking about a six year old child, but it sounds like the dog is six.

Another
"It held the scent of her, but his nose could not locate her in the crowd." "it" sounds like his nose, but "It" probably refers to the crowd, or even possibly the air. The only place I want to imagine a nose holding the scent of someone is in a vampire book, a werewolf story, or something similar. I mean, can you imagine if we added names? "It held the scent of her, but Johnny Depp's nose could not locate Angelina Jolee in the crowd." Ha, ha. These two actors were in The Tourist, not The Twilight Saga.

I love this site.

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