Pardon Me, Madam, but Your Participle Is Dangling

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by Erin Karl, Analytical Grammar

Many of us have heard the phrase “dangling participle.” Do you know what one actually is?

A participle is a verbal. It LOOKS “verbish,” but actually functions as an adjective. Therefore it needs to be right next to the noun it modifies. When that doesn’t happen, it’s considered dangling. It can lead to some very funny situations.

There are two kinds of participles: present and past. Present participles always end in -ing. Past participles always fit in this sentence: I have _______.

Verb – SMELL
Present participle – SMELLING
Past participle – SMELLED

These become participial phrases when they have a direct object or predicate nominative/adjective that pair with them or other modifiers like prepositional phrases. I’ve underlined them below:

Present participial phrase – The woman, LOOKING confident
Past participial phrase – The book WRITTEN by the man in the front row …

Now, hilarity can ensue when a participle is NOT next to the word it is supposed to modify.  Check out these examples (I’ve underlined the participial phrase and italicized the noun each is supposed to modify):

Oozing slowly across the floor, Marvin watched the salad dressing.

It should be – Marvin watched the salad dressing oozing slowly across the floor. (The image of Marvin oozing is worth a chuckle or two.)

I saw an accident walking down the street.

It should be — Walking down the street, I saw an accident. (Did you know an accident could walk?)

I saw the lost dog driving down the interstate.

It should be — Driving down the interstate, I saw the lost dog.  (Who sees the dog behind the wheel now?)

There you go!  You’re now a “participial expert”!

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Author: Michael Leppert

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