Prepositional phrase attachments of the week

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By coincidence, today's email brought two contributions of links to remarkable examples of PP-attachment ambiguity.

The first one was the lede from this story — Jason Rosenbaum & Marshal Griffin, "Hawley: Evidence exists to charge Greitens for obtaining charity fundraising list", St. Louis Public Radio, 4/18/2018:

Attorney General Josh Hawley is asking the St. Louis circuit attorney to file criminal charges against Gov. Eric Greitens for allegedly illegally obtaining a fundraising list from a charity he founded for political purposes.

It took me a couple of re-reading to clarify the point that Mr. Greitens obtained the list for political purposes, not that he founded the charity for political purposes.

And in this headline, it's the man who was charged, not the woman he shot: "Man out of jail after 16 months for shooting Nashua woman charged with vicious beating of new girlfriend", 4/16/2018

[h/t John Lawler and Mark Mandel]


  1. loonquawl said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 2:30 am

    In german it would be possible to add commas around the inset, functionally much like parentheses:
    "Man, out of jail after 16 months for shooting Nashua woman, charged with vicious beating of new girlfriend"

    Is that admissible in english too? (Of course the whole sentence might be restructured to resolve the ambiguity, but would the commas be grammatical?)

  2. Michael Watts said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 3:23 am

    Yes, that's also possible in English.

  3. ajay said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 3:51 am

    It's not really admissible in headlines, though, which tend to shun commas. The exception is the New York Times, which prides itself on its strange and clumsy headlines: "Seeking Point Of Over-Long Heads, Man Mulls Grey Lady Unsubscribing"

  4. ajay said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 3:53 am

    If I had to rewrite that headline I'd probably go for something like: NEW ABUSE CHARGE FOR MAN JAILED FOR NASHUA SHOOTING

    though that does make it sound as though he's still in prison.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 4:10 am

    headlines […] tend to shun commas

    Really? I've seen so many that use commas instead of "and": "A, B doing C".

  6. philip said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 4:59 am

    Some of those 'headlines' are way toooooooooooo loooooooooong to be headlines. Are they perhaps sub-headlines?

  7. Yerushalmi said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 6:35 am

    How about this: "Newly-released shooter of Nashua woman now charged with vicious beating of new girlfriend"

  8. Bartleby said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 8:05 am

    Isn't the second example a gerund-participial clause functioning as an adjunct (not a prepositional phrase)?

  9. Bartleby said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 8:06 am

    Oops. I meant a past participial clause, not a gerund-participial clause.

  10. D.O. said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 8:08 am

    I agree that it is probably not what the journalists meant, but are you sure that Gov. Greitens haven't founded the charity in question for political purposes?

  11. rosie said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 8:30 am

    David Marjanović. Yes, and "A does B, does C". But only from US sources. The British press favours noun phrases (sometimes noun piles) with no tensed verbs at all.

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