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Grammatically Correct: Mixed Constructions Nonsense

by Dodici Azpadu

061957-firey-orange-jelly-icon-people-things-people-singing200As writers, we can be lulled by careless speech into thinking that what we hear is correct on paper.

The reason the Yankees lost the series was because of their pitching.Sounds correct, doesn’t it? Phrases like the following often result in mixed construction: is when, is where, the reason … is or was.

These words suggest place, time, and causality; however, place, time, and causality often do not make sense with the verbs is, are, was, or were. After forms of the verb to be (is, are, was, were), a noun that renames the subject or an adjective that modifies the subject is customary. In the example above was is followed by an adverbial clause because of their pitching. The correct way to write the sentence is:

The Yankees lost the series because of their pitching.Misplaced, Limited and Dangling Modifiers
Mixed constructions are frequently related to misplaced and dangling modifiers because errors in these groups do not make logical or grammatical sense. Misplaced limiting modifiers are epidemic in speech. Use the following limiting modifiers cautiously: only, even, almost, nearly and just.

I only want my father to pay for tuition.In this sentence, only modifies the verb want. Surely the speaker has other wants. Do not put a limiting modifier in front of a verb, unless you intend to modify the verb. The rule is to place a limiting modifier directly in front of the word or words it modifies. The meaning of a sentence changes depending on where only is placed.

I want only my father to pay for tuition.
I want my father to pay for tuition only.
Consider another example of a misplaced limiting modifier.

I just went to the grocery store, not to the bar.Just modifies went, but to what purpose? Correctly written, just limits grocery store, not went, as in the example that follows.

I went just to the grocery store, not to the bar.Sometimes you do want to limit the verb, as in the following example.

Sometimes, I can’t even find the keyboard, much less strike the keys.You may leave the grammatical subtleties to a paid copy editor, or you can save money by avoiding the faulty construction, which is often wordy as well as incorrect.


Dodici Azpadu, MFA, PhD is a novelist, short story writer, and poet. Her fiction publications include: Saturday Night in the Prime of Life and Goat Song (Aunt Lute/Spinsters Ink) and subsequently Onlywoman (London, England). Living Room (2010) and Traces of a Woman (2014), both by Neuma Books, are available as ebooks. She’s currently at work on a novel, tentatively titled Living Lies.

WearingThePhantomOut100Her poetry publications include Wearing the Phantom Out (2013) and Rumi’s Falcon from Neuma Books. Individual poems have appeared in Malpais Review, Adobe Walls, ContraACultura (online), Parnassus, Sinister Wisdom, Latuca, The Rag, and The Burning Bush. Her work has also been anthologized in Centos: A Collage of Poems and Hey Pasean!

Dodici teaches “The Joy of Poetry” and “Craft of Creating Writing” classes through University of New Mexico’s Osher Lifelong Learning.

This article was originally published in the June 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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