Do You Have a Dangling Participle?

Nat RussoEditing, Grammar, Revision 2 Comments

For that matter, what is a dangling participle?

Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know that I periodically gather questions people ask on Twitter with an eye toward writing a larger response here. Some questions simply require more space or finesse than 280 characters will allow.

This isn’t one of them. But I’m going to do it anyway, because it has been too damned long since you friendly folks have heard from me!

As you can see from the first sentence, the question of the day is, “What is a dangling participle?”

Carrot on a stick
It’s sort of like this…except it isn’t. So, forget I mentioned it.

First, what is a Participle?

Before we can spot one dangerously dangling over…something that things are known to dangerously dangle over, it would be a good idea to define it.

It’s actually pretty simple, once you boil it down. A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective.

Okay. But, in what way does it act like an adjective? Well, adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. So, if a participle is a verb that’s acting like an adjective, then it must be a verb that modifies a noun or pronoun in your sentence.

“Running through the doorway, I spotted the car right where I left it.”

I spotted the car. Can you spot the participle? If you guessed “running”, you’re correct. But, what does “running” modify in the example sentence? It modifies “I”. I was the one who was running through the doorway. This sentence, though in dire need of a rewrite, is an example of how not to dangle your participle.

How does one Dangle?

Dangle from Reno 911
No! Not this Dangle!

Let’s get straight to the point. A dangling participle is a participle whose modified noun or pronoun is missing from the sentence. It’s a common misconception that “dangling participle” implies something at the end of a sentence. Though a dangling participle can appear at the end (as it does in the video example above from the movie Oscar… lawd I love that movie…), it often doesn’t. Let’s abuse the first example sentence I wrote earlier and force a dangling participle.

“Running through the doorway, the car was right where I left it.”

In this case, we have a muddled impression of what running is intended to modify.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. depending on the context surrounding this sentence wherever it appears, it will be more or less confusing. Taken by itself, it seems to imply the car was the object running through the doorway. The surrounding context will either make this more or less of a plausible intention.

But, I’m not here to tell you what you should do. I’m merely here to describe what a dangling participle is. Usage should be left up to the writer. I don’t specifically mention dangling participles in my revision checklists because I don’t want to confuse you into thinking these are evil constructs of the language that should be eradicated. As always, I would never suggest or imply that proper grammar should trump characterization. But, that’s a topic for a different post.

Now, go forth and dangle! Or not! Whatever!

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

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