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In The Little Gold Grammar Book there's a rule: Whenever a sentence opens with a phrase or clause that is set off by a comma, check to make sure that the first word that follows the comma is properly being modified by the opening phrase or clause that precedes it.

And there's an incorrect sentence given as an example.

Based on our observations, the project will succeed.

I think a project can be based on observations no? I don't see this as a violation against the rule.

Here's the explanation provided in the book.

The correct version: On the basis of our observations, we believe the project will succeed.

Firstly, “the project” is not based on our observations. Observations must be made by people, so “we” is an appropriate substitute. Secondly, the phrase “based on” is incorrect because we cannot be physically standing on our observations or attached to them. The correct phraseology is “on the basis of.” In general, “based on” is not an appropriate modifier to use with people; but it’s fine for inanimate objects, e.g., a movie based on a book.

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  • If The Little Gold Grammar Book claims that Based on our observations, the project will succeed is somehow syntactically invalid, I suggest it's a completely worthless teaching aid. That utterance is perfectly valid English, within which Based on our observations is a whole sentence adverb (modifying the entire statement that follows, not just the first noun phrase contained within it). Throw the book away before it starts convincing you of other fallacies that might not be so easily corrected. Aug 31, 2021 at 11:16

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I have no issue with this sentence.

The misplaced modifier argument is that "based on our observations" is modifying "project", so this could be understood as

The project that is based on our expectations, will succeed.

I don't find that argument very convincing. It is perfectly clear that the participle phrase is giving the reason that we know the project will succeed, and our brains are quite flexible enough to deal with this. There is little or no chance of ambiguity.

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  • Sorry, I just found the reason the author provided for this. Would you check if the argument makes sense?
    – Luke
    Aug 31, 2021 at 7:50
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    Well, like I said, I can see the potential problem, but I don't find it very convincing. Misplaced modifiers is not about whether something is grammatical or not. The "incorrect" sentence is 100% grammatical. It is about whether it is ambiguous, or has a literal meaning at odds with the intended meaning. In this case I don't see any chance of ambiguity, misunderstanding, or conflict between intended and literal meaning.
    – James K
    Aug 31, 2021 at 8:01
  • I have a strong feeling that the sentence wants to say 'Our prediction, based on our observations of its progress, is that the project will succeed'. Aug 31, 2021 at 9:39
  • @MichaelHarvey I agree, which is why I think that there is no real chance of ambiguity here.
    – James K
    Aug 31, 2021 at 10:31
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    I agree with @MichaelH, too, but as for Based on our observations, the project will succeed – I wouldn't want to send that sentence to my boss as part of a status report. I agree with this answer; one would need to overthink things to get confused here. It's a poor example of an alleged faulty construct.
    – J.R.
    Aug 31, 2021 at 11:08

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