More mangled modifiers

Yesterday I received a letter that made me laugh out loud. It was a fundraising letter, so that probably wasn’t the reaction that the author was after. But the first sentence created a wonderful image for me.

Here’s the sentence:

  • When I was told I might have leukaemia in 2008 I was shattered.

The image I got was of Mark (the case study in the letter) sitting in a doctor’s office some time in 2006 (or around then) being told that, in 2008, he might have leukaemia. It’s like looking into the future.

It’s the placement of ‘in 2008’ that causes the problem … 2008 should relate to when Mark was told about the leukaemia, not when he might have it.

If ‘2008’ is important to the sentence, then it probably needs to read:

  • In 2008, when I was told that I might have leukaemia, I was shattered.

Another alternative would be to put ‘2008’ after ‘told’, but the flow isn’t quite as good:

  • When I was told, in 2008, that I might have leukaemia, I was shattered.

Of course, maybe the sentence would just be more powerful without the year:

  • When I was told that I might have leukaemia, I was shattered.

Time is one of those sentence elements that needs to be incorporated carefully … with close attention to make sure that it refers to the thing that the writer intends it to.