Ambiguous Constructions

Here's a headline from cnn.com on November 26, 2007:

Key West's dead raised to learn their secrets


After a few read-throughs, you probably understand that other people raise the dead in order to learn the dead's secrets. But it shouldn't take a few read-throughs to figure out what's going on in a sentence.

Here's another construction commonly seen in our books:

You'll get the skills and knowledge needed to succeed.


Skills and knowledge don't succeed. In fact, skills and knowledge don't actively do anything. Here are possible revisions that correct the ambiguity. In parentheses are explanations of the revisions:

You'll get the skills and knowledge you need for success. (Use for followed by a simple noun. This would sound even better with an in phrase after success, as in You'll get the skills and knowledge you need for success in the profession.)

You'll get the skills and knowledge you need for succeeding. (Use for followed by a gerund. I'll admit that this one doesn't sound as good as the previous one.)

You'll get the skills and knowledge required in order to succeed. (The in order phrase breaks up the verb required from the infinitive to succed, thereby eliminating ambiguity. The in order to succeed now is attributed to you.)


Here are some more ambiguous constructions; correct revisions follow each one in parentheses:

Rest, ice, and immobilization are recommended to avoid additional tissue damage. (Rest, ice, and immobilization are recommended for avoiding additional tissue damage.)

Her choreographic work has provided a rich context to explore the ways in which women's identities are constructed. (Her choreographic work has provided a rich context for exploring the ways in which women's identities are constructed.)

You can use this text as a blueprint to achieve your vision for your park and recreation department. (You can use this text as a blueprint for achieving your vision for your park and recreation department.)

It covers key defensive fundamentals needed to be successful as a player and a team. (It covers key defensive fundamentals needed for succeeding as a player and as a team. Or It covers key defensive fundamentals needed for success as a player and as a team.)

The goal of the instructor-led session of a blended course is to provide coaches with guided practice of the motor skills necessary to perform CPR and to assess coaches' competency and issue certification. (The goal of the instructor-led session of a blended course is to provide coaches with guided practice of the motor skills they need in order to perform CPR and to assess coaches' competency and issue certification.)