Eliminate Ambiguity: Avoid Squinting Modifiers

I’m ashamed of myself. 🥺

While reworking my web copy, I found a sentence with—dare I say it?—a squinting modifier. 

What is a squinting modifier?

One of those adverbials that modify the word before or after it—depending on how deeply you squint.

Here’s an example: “Reading this post soon will make you a better writer.”
What does that mean?
Will reading this post within the hour (or at least before supper) improve your writing?
Or will reading this post improve your writing in a short time?
Could be both. This sentence is ambiguous.
Errors like these are easy to miss in your writing. You hear the majestic flow of your prose in your mind, with perfect intonation and well-placed pauses. But your readers’ eyes scan the words without such foreknowledge.

How to Fix Squinting Modifiers

Identify every modifier in your story. Did you sandwich your adverbs between modifiable words? If you find only one victim for the adverb, you’re good.
But sometimes, you’ll still miss these squinting little buggers.
The solution? Distance.
We get so close to our work that we miss the obvious errors. But if you look at your work a few weeks later—with unburdened eyes—these issues seem to have taken the time to organize a frontal assault against you. You wonder how you could have missed them.
Distance did the trick.
Whether it’s distance in time (editing after a few weeks) or space (another person checking our work), it will reveal those little things we missed.

Need Help Fixing Grammar Issues?

If you want someone to check your manuscript, blog, copy, or article for the hundreds of possible issues that might be hunting your prose, send me a message or check my website.
I’d love to help you out!

Enjoyed this blog?

Have a look at my other posts. And if you need help finishing your story, let’s chat.

Eliminate Ambiguity: Avoid Squinting Modifiers

Niels Kwakernaak

Nonfiction Editor

Thanks for your interest in my experience and ideas. I write these blogs to help you overcome the hurdles of being a writer.

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