A dangling participle is a modifier that’s in the wrong place for the noun it is supposed to describe. This means:
- The modifier is too far away from what it is supposed to describe, or
- Another noun got in the way and the modifier clung to it instead of the intended noun, or
- The noun the modifier is supposed to modify isn’t in the sentence.
Some instructors, judges and editors believe dangling participles are the most egregious writing mistake because they cause readers so much grief trying to decipher the writer’s intentions.
In Other Words …
Mentally, readers expect a participle to modify the person, place or thing that immediately follows it, and when that construction isn’t logical, the writer leaves both the participle, and the reader, dangling.
So, what does this mean to the grammar-challenged? It means they need to be able to recognize and fix a dangling participle, just in case one slips into their writing. Most dangling participles are fairly easy to fix but recognizing them takes practice. Here are some tips for recognizing sentences with dangling participles:
- Make sure the action in the sentence is actually attached to the person or thing doing it.
- Read your draft aloud before you submit it. The stresses and pauses will help you recognize when something doesn’t quite sound right.
- Have someone else read the draft, someone whose reading skills you trust.
- Make sure all participial forms are immediately preceded or followed by the nouns they modify.
Let’s analyze and fix some of the sentences from the previous post:
(1) After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought out some shrivelled potatoes.
· Modifier: After rotting in the cellar for weeks
· What the writer wanted to modify: some shriveled potatoes
· What is actually being modified: my brother
· Discussion: Fix the sentence so that the brother hasn’t been rotting in the cellar.
Fix 1: My brother brought out some shrivelled potatoes that had been rotting in the cellar for weeks.
Fix 2: After rotting in the cellar for weeks, the potatoes had shrivelled. (Good, although it leaves out the brother.)
(2) Looking out over his yard, the deer nibbled on his grape vines.
· Modifier: Looking out over his yard
· What the writer wanted to modify: Whoever was looking out over his yard (missing)
· What is actually being modified: the deer
· Discussion: Fix the sentence so the man who owns the yard immediately follows the modifier.
Fix 1: Looking out over his yard, Bob could see the deer nibbling on his grape vines.
Fix 2: As he looked out over his yard, the owner saw the deer nibble his grape vines.
(3) At the age of 12, her father passed away.
· Modifier: At the age of 12
· What the writer wanted to modify: the girl (missing)
· What is actually being modified: her father
· Discussion: Fix the sentence so the father doesn’t die at the age of 12.
Fix 1: At the age of 12, the girl lost her father who passed away.
Fix 2: Sarah’s father passed away when she was 12 years old.
(4) Driving south through Bluff, the San Juan River appeared on my left.
· Modifier: Driving south through Bluff
· What the writer wanted to modify: Whoever was driving
· What is actually being modified: the river (which appears to be driving)
· Discussion: Add the driver and reword the sentence so that a person is driving and not the river.
Fix 1: As I drove south through Bluff, the San Juan River appeared on my left.
Fix 2: Driving south through Bluff, I saw the San Juan River on my left.
(P.S. That’s the San Juan River in the photo above.)
Attached is a PDF with the examination, description and fixes for eight more sentences. Click to open the file. MoreFixesforDanglingParticiples
(c) January 19, 2012
Dangling Participles May Be Funny, But …
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