Squinting Modifier. What is Squinting Modifier?

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If you want to communicate clearly in English, you not only want to use the correct words, you also want to make sure that your grammar is correct.

But even if those two things are without a problem, your writing or speaking may still be unclear if you don’t pay attention to where you put the phrases that you use.

This is especially true when you use adverbs, though other types of speech and phrases can also be squinting modifiers.

Words and phrases can easily become squinting modifiers when they are put in a spot that means they could describe several different things. The meaning of your sentence becomes unclear, which may lead to misunderstandings.

Squinting modifiers are a type of misplaced modifier, or a word or phrase whose meaning is not clear for one reason or another.

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Examples

  • The homework that the teacher assigned quickly frustrated the students.

In this example, the word (adverb) quickly could refer to either the assignment of the homework (the teacher assigned it in a rush) or the frustration of the students (the students were quickly frustrated).

  • Taking some time to focus clearly makes the product you create higher quality.

For this sentence, the squinting modified is clearly.

Instead of being clear, the word could describe both taking some time (you can focus clearly on something) or make your product higher quality (it clearly makes your product better). A sentence like this, especially without much context, can create a lot of confusion.

  • What you see often you will like.

The word often is the squinting modifier for this sentence. The reader is unsure whether it refers to what you see (meaning that you see something multiple times) or what you will like (you will like that thing more times than not).

Many times, adverbs that describe the time or frequency of a verb can easily be squinting modifiers. Examples include only, rarely, after something, when something, etc.

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Fixing squinting modifiers

Most sentences with squinting modifiers can be easily fixed. The only thing that it takes is a little bit of rearranging for the modifier to become clear.

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Let’s look again at the examples from above.

  • The homework that the teacher assigned quickly frustrated the students.

If you mean that the teacher assigned the homework quickly, change the sentence to this:

  • The teacher assigned the homework quickly, which frustrated the students.

If you mean that the students became frustrated quickly, maybe because the homework was difficult or very long, change it in this way:

  • The students quickly became frustrated by the homework that the teacher assigned.

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For this sentence, this is what you can do.

  • Taking some time to focus clearly makes the product you create higher quality.

If you mean that the reader needs to focus clearly, try this:

  • Taking some time to clearly focus on your product can make it a higher quality end product.

If you mean that focus can clearly lead to higher quality, this might be better:

  • Taking some time to focus can make the product you create clearly higher quality than before.

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Lastly, this example is the same way:

  • What you see often you will like.

For a sentence that talks about something that you see often, use this:

  • What you often see, you will like.

For a sentence that means you will often like the things you see, try it this way:

  • What you see, often you will like.

Many of these sentences can be changed quickly by inserting a comma before or after the squinting modifier, depending on which meaning you want to convey. Usually, this can accomplish your clarification with minimal editing to make sure the grammar is correct.

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Last tips to catch misplaced modifiers

When reading over your own work, it is easy to overlook misplaced modifiers, especially ones like squinting modifiers that create ambiguity.

This is because you almost always remember what you meant when you wrote the sentence, especially if you read it right after you write it.

To make sure that you catch these easy-to-miss mistakes, ask a friend or colleague to read over your work. Pay special attention to adverbs in the middle of a sentence that does not have punctuation other than a period at the end.

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