Syntactic Ambiguity

Manual of Style for Contract Drafting Cover-3D
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The right word in the wrong order can cause a reader to draw unintended meaning from a sentence. When the reader and the writer see the same words, but find different meanings, the words are ambiguous—and this ambiguity can lead to litigation.

Misplaced modifiers are one of the most common sources of syntactic ambiguity in legal writing. In this chapter from A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, author and contract drafting expert Ken Adams takes a deep dive into modifier errors and shows you how to spot issues that cause ambiguity, including:

  • modifiers preceding or trailing two or more nouns
  • modifiers occurring between two or more nouns
  • modifiers of uncertain length
  • opening and closing modifiers
  • and more!

Thanks to Ken, with this chapter, you’ll learn to find and fix these modifier errors in your own writing. When you download this chapter, you’ll also get invaluable lessons about when to use that and which and the nuances of using the serial comma.

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Chapter reprinted with permission from ABA Book Publishing. Originally published in A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, Fourth Edition by Kenneth A. Adams. Copyright © 2017. Complete book available from the ABA book store.