A common type of jumble in prose results when an author begins forming an expression but introduces another expression before completing the presentation of the first. In the simplest form of this problem, an adjective is shifted out of position:

One third of the voters polled said that the most trusted candidate by them and their friends was …

This sentence depends on the combination trusted byby them and their friends makes sense only as a modifier of most trusted. But the author’s impatience to get to most trusted pulls the adjective forward in front of candidate, where it is cut off from by them and their friends. The prepositional phrase now follows a noun it doesn’t apply to. The solution in such a case is to restore the adjective to the position that the wording requires:

the candidate most trusted by them and their friends

Does this logic mean that fastest should be moved in the following sentence?

She was the fastest runner on the team.

No. Whereas the mind revolts at the first example, it is pleased by the good order of the second one. The candidate is not by them and their friends, but the runner is on the team.

Clauses may be prematurely injected as well:

The impression that the violinist gives of supreme ease is the product of years of practice.

The impression is one of supreme ease, but this core of meaning is disrupted by a clause inserted in the middle. The violinist does not give of anything. Delaying the premature clause would be an adequate improvement:

The impression of supreme ease that the violinist gives is the product of years of practice.

Or the problem could be eliminated as part of a revision that makes the sentence more concise:

The violinist’s appearance of supreme ease is the product of years of practice.

The following headline is an extreme case:

New York Times headline reading, Owner Identified of Site Offering Hackers for Hire

On its face, the headline speaks nonsensically of identifying of a site. In reality, two expressions are entangled. There is news about the owner of a site. The news is that the owner is identified. The author of the headline, in haste, didn’t finish establishing the first idea before injecting the second. If we wait for the ideas to unfold in their due time, the headline will read:

Owner of Site Offering Hackers for Hire Is Identified

Work Cited

Goldstein, Matthew. “Owner Identified of Site Offering Hackers for Hire.” The New York Times, 13 May 2015, p. B1.

Photo of Eric Wirth

Eric Wirth

Until his retirement in 2016, Eric Wirth was the head of editorial services at the MLA, where for twenty-seven years he prepared scholarly writing for publication. Previously, he produced reference books at other publishers, after studying French literature in college.