Don’t hang people, even the IRS

After refusing to answer questions before a congressional committee about targeting conservative groups, the IRS put the official at the center of the scandal on administrative leave.*

Ok, now who refused to answer the committee? I understand that copy editors in the say-it-first world of news are under inhuman pressures, but really, how did that get by? I’m talking dangling participles here, and the atrocity above is a doozy. Grammar may be a pain, but it’s a fact of life in communications.

The lesson?  A verbal phase — “After refusing to answer” — that precedes the main clause of a sentence — “the IRS put…” — attaches to the subject of the clause. In other words, the entire IRS refused to answer the committee. That was not the case. It was the ex-official who did the refusing.

This puts me in the unenviable position of defending the IRS. Shame on you, NPR.

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*  I quote this sentence from memory, so it may not be exact. But the faulty structure was certainly there.

Posted in Editorial Style, Grammar Diaries

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