A Careless Compound

First, here’s the bad sentence:

Because it will be able to collect more light than any telescope every built, including light from the edge of the universe, the device will allow us to determine the distance of far-off objects from the Earth and their composition.


(First, that “every” should be “ever.” This is a plain old typo, resulting from carelessness. Shame on the proofreader.)

The real mistake of writing in this sentence has to do with the phrase “their composition.” At first (careless) glance, it looks like a compound object of 
from,” which doesn’t make sense.

“Their composition” is part of a compound direct object of “determine.”

The sentence has two solutions:

  • Put a comma after “Earth.” This separates “and their composition” from the prepositional phrase.
  • Put “composition and” right before “distance.” That gives you “…determine the composition and distance of far-off objects…” Now put “far off” where it belongs, next to the preposition: “…determine the composition and distance of objects far off from the Earth.”

I prefer the second choice even though it’s more work. The sentence is smoother.

Oh. Here’s a picture of the telescope, scheduled to be completed in 2024.

Image Credit: GMTO