Watch where you put things!

rogersgeorge on July 20th, 2011

The rule of thumb in English is that modifiers go next to what they modify. Try not to put anything in between. Here’s an example of doing it wrong:

President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, lauding his “extraordinary heroism” during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday that marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.

This is from a recent news article in the Los Angeles Times. Let’s follow our rule. When did this soldier’s extraordinary heroism take place? The sentence says it took place during a White House ceremony! (Insert presidential political joke here.) Let’s rewrite the sentence so it doesn’t cause unintended humor:

President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday,┬álauding his “extraordinary heroism” ┬áthat marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.

It’s still not quite right. What does that final clause, about being the second time, go with? It goes with the awarding, way up at the front of the sentence. There’s no graceful way to put this clause up there, So we make a new sentence. Rule of thumb number two: It’s okay to use two simple sentences instead of one long, complicated, ungraceful one.

President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, lauding his “extraordinary heroism” during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday. The award marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.

photo copyright (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

There. Sentences that befit a sitting president and a war hero, regardless of your politics.

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