Papa, we hardly knew ye

“At the age of six, his father died.”

Complicated, isn’t it?

Six is really young to be a father.

In English (and that’s what we’re dealing with here, after all), a modifying phrase will be understood to modify whatever it’s adjacent to, fore or aft.

So this sentence could have also been written as follows:

“His father, at the age of six, died.”

Or: “His father died, at the age of six.”

Both of which are equally ridiculous.

Beware the sneaky little preposition at. You think it’s communicating, when it’s actually just confusing. You can usually do better. Try an adverb, for example, like when — with a verb, maybe. Even a crummy inactive verb, like is or was:

When he was six, his father died.”

It’s a sad little story anyway, no matter how you write it. I feel sorry for this kid. Left to a struggling single mom, probably no more than five years old….

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