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Apart from Federer, I have not seen a stronger player.

The sentence is grammatically incorrect. Why is it incorrect?

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  • 3
    if' you're removing Federer from the comparison... who are you comparing? i'd be more tempted to say Apart from Federer, i have not seen a strong player. since you remove comparisons with the first phrase. Aug 3 at 19:05
  • 5
    @PatrickT, except that is not what it says. "Apart from Federer" clearly does not modify the narrator ("I"), and "seen" is not applicable to Federer. It simply doesn't fit to misconstrue it as Federer and the narrator having seen.
    – Mark G B
    Aug 4 at 0:47
  • 25
    "The sentence is grammatically incorrect..." - source?
    – BruceWayne
    Aug 4 at 2:05
  • 11
    I don't think it's incorrect — just lacking context. Aug 4 at 11:35
  • 11
    Who told you that this sentence was incorrect & what was their rationale? Aug 4 at 16:07
31

I don't think there's an error in that sentence. It's acceptable to start a sentence with a prepositional phrase, including ones like "except for" and "apart from".

Here is a page with a more thorough explanation of prepositional phrases, and when and where they can be moved.

2
  • It's spoken English, and implies a conversation between two people who are discussing some player we do not see. The prepositional phrase is fine.
    – Lambie
    Aug 5 at 20:02
  • This was my gut instinct, spent way too long trying to find something wrong with the sentence before I scrolled down.
    – TCooper
    Aug 5 at 22:11
31

This sentence says clearly and grammatically correctly that you have just been watching the second strongest or possibly strongest player you’ve ever seen, and that you have also seen Federer, who is the only player you have seen who may have been stronger.

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    It just depends if the OP is actually in that context. If they're in a context where they're just trying to say Federer is the best then I'd say this sentence is awkward at best. Aug 4 at 19:22
  • The most grammatically correct interpretation (I believe) is "I have not seen a stronger player while [I have been] apart from Federer"-- in which case we can't even assume that Federer is a player. Aug 5 at 1:36
  • That seems to me to be the most natural interpretation too. I find it hard to see what the other answers are driving at.
    – mdewey
    Aug 5 at 14:52
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    Quite obvious that “apart” means “with the exception of”, and not “while separated from”.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 5 at 15:55
  • This answer is the best as it takes into account pragmatics. Two people are talking about some player that is NOT Federer. Apart from Federer, I have never seen [as I am seeing right now or have just seen] a better player.
    – Lambie
    Aug 5 at 20:01
25

This is what traditionalists call a misplaced modifier. I use the word "technically" below to indicate the traditional perspective, the one we can read about in textbooks written for young people.

When a modifying phrase is next to a noun phrase, it technically modifies that noun phrase.

In this case Apart from Federer is a modifying phrase. It is next to I, so technically it modifies I. It therefore seems to indicate that I is apart from Federer, and this is clearly not the author's intent. The author wants to describe the object of the comparison.

If someone has called the sentence "incorrect," they are probably thinking of this traditional rule.

In practice, "misplaced modifiers" rarely cause genuine confusion. Native speakers "misplace" modifiers all the time, and their audience usually understands the intent. The meaning of the Federer sentence is perfectly clear.

That said, the careless placement of modifiers can cause miscommunication, often with comic results. Consider the following:

Crying and screaming throughout the funeral, the dead man was mourned by his friends and family.

A dead man was crying and screaming? Your audience will no doubt get the point, but some of them may be inclined to laugh at an inappropriate moment.

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    Just move the "Apart from" to the other end of the sentence, putting it in proximity with the part you want to modify: "I have not seen a stronger player apart from Federer". (Though I would use "than" instead of "apart from").
    – chepner
    Aug 3 at 14:49
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    I don't think the mistake you're describing happens here, that's how "apart from" works basically all the time. If you have an indefinite subject and definite object or vice versa, it's obvious that "apart from" applies to the one that's indefinite. See "Apart from your dad, everyone is here" and "Apart from your dad, I've greeted everyone". Here's it's clear "apart from" applies to "everyone", no matter what's next to it. Aug 3 at 15:16
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    The classic example, possibly by Jim Brewer, is: “Outside of a dog, a book is Man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
    – Davislor
    Aug 3 at 15:56
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    When you say that the modifying phrase is “next to I, so technically it modifies I” you are quoting a prescriptive out-dated rule that is so often broken in ordinary (even formal) usage that it simply doesn’t exist. Aug 3 at 17:13
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    @Orbital Aussie, Your complaint is exactly what the word "technically" indicates. I am attempting to explain to OP why someone—who is not me—called the sentence incorrect. Aug 3 at 17:30
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The sentence is grammatically incorrect.

I don't think this statement is true.

The sentence may (or may not) be semantically incorrect based solely on the context.

In case it is not preceded (expectably immediately) by a reference to another player (that is, the better part is a comparison to Federer himself), then it absolutely is.

Otherwise it is perfectly legal and comprehensible.

2

While I like Jeffrey Carney's answer (and upvoted it), I will write my own because I believe one thing about the question should be made clear. While the questioner's sentence may seem confusing or ambiguous to some, it is not grammatically incorrect. It would be clearly understood by native speakers under most circumstances.

However, as a matter of style, this sentence may not constructed in the clearest way. What you see in the sentence is possibly a misplaced modifier[1]. Supposedly, one could understand the phrase "Apart from Federer" to refer to the speaker ("I"), but in this sentence I think such a misunderstanding would be highly unlikely. One can find examples of far more egregiously misunderstandable sentences at the sources linked in the footnotes. Additional sources to understand misplaced modifiers are at [yourdictionary (dot) com][2], and [opentextbooks (dot) org][3].

The Walden Univ source describes misplaced modifiers as

When a modifier is ambiguously or illogically modifying a word, we consider it a misplaced modifier.

And, the yourdictionary description:

It’s important for modifiers to stick close to the word or words they’re modifying. When they stray too far, they become misplaced modifiers — and if they get too far, it may look like they’re modifying something else.

You will notice that none of the resources linked puts modifier placement in the "rules to obey" column, as we have with some other grammatical instances. What is important in each description is that the modifier be placed for clarity of understanding. A pedant might take issue with the placement of "Apart from Federer", because it is not directly adjacent to "a stronger player". However, since, in this usage the "apart from" phrase clearly modifies "a stronger player", it would not be misplaced. If one were concerned for absolute clarity, with no chance for misinterpretation, then perhaps:

I have not seen a stronger player, apart from Federer.

or

I have not seen, apart from Federer, a stronger player.

However, personally I find both cases to be more uncomfortable and lacking the immediacy and dynamic exclamatory style of the original. As I said above, one can easily find examples of truly misplaced modifiers, whose placement would lead to gross misunderstanding or confusion. But I don't think this is one.

  [1]: https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/modifiers
  [2]: https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-misplaced-modifiers.html
  [3]: https://www.opentextbooks.org.hk/ditatopic/4537
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  • 1
    It, for "Apart from Federer" to modify "I", would not make sense
    – user253751
    Aug 4 at 13:51
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    (the incorrect grammar in the previous comment is deliberate)
    – user253751
    Aug 4 at 13:52
  • As the ex-Mrs Federer said: “Apart from Federer, I have never visited a tennis court again”.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 5 at 16:12
  • @gnasher729, a humorous counterpoint! But your modification changes the sense, and those changes alter the circumstances and the answer. Your construction is ambiguous, and I still maintain the original construction is not. Even if you simply added the "ex-Mrs" bit to the original, it still only makes sense the one way, and might only barely be misconstrued. It is easy enough to find other instances of truly misplaced modifiers. The modifier does not have to be directly adjacent, if the intended meaning is clear.
    – Mark G B
    Aug 5 at 18:55
0

In this very example it is perfectly clear what the speaker wants to communicate. But let's exchange I for we.

Apart from Federer, we have not seen a stronger player.

Now it is not perfectly clear anymore: have we not seen any stronger player, except for Federer, or has none of us, except for Federer, ever seen any stronger player.

I think this is the reason why those types of constructions are not seen as 100% correct.

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