My Favorite Kind of Grammatical Mistake

How can you not love misplaced modifiers? Often, they are kneewhackingly funny. I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and came across this sentence last night:

[Don] Valentine arrived at the Jobses’ garage in a Mercedes wearing a blue suit, button-down shirt, and rep tie.”

I’ve never bought a Mercedes, so I’m not familiar with the options. Perhaps you can buy an entire outfit for your new car. A blue suit would look spiffy against a metallic gray Mercedes body. I’m left wondering what kind of shoes the car had on.

A modifier is nothing more than a word or a group of words that gives information about another part of the sentence. Here’s the rule with modifiers: Put it next to the word or word it’s giving information about. In this case, we intuitively know that Don Valentine was wearing the clothes described. All Isaacson needed to do was begin the sentence, “Don Valentine, wearing a blue suit, button-down shirt, and rep tie, arrived at the Jobses’ garage in a Mercedes.”

Steve Jobs is a fascinating description of an extremely complex person. All it would have taken to avoid this error was proofreading and careful editing. I often wonder if editors no longer exist at publishing houses.



Filed under All things having to do with the English language

2 responses to “My Favorite Kind of Grammatical Mistake

  1. Haha! I read this book a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. I don’t remember that sentence, must have been distracted – good eye!


  2. Dear BCM,

    I’m such an inveterate grammar snob and editor that these gaffes jump out at me.

    The book is fascinating. I’m only at the point where he has just started Apple with Wozniak. Quite the odd couple. Jobs comes across as entitled and demanding, but no one can doubt his brilliance. I wonder what he would have become had he grown up in the South or Midwest, without the resources of Silicon Valley.


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