Dangling Participle

There are three things that make the dangling participle such a problem in writing. For one, it’s not grammatically correct! It’s not some purely technical problem, either; dangling participles actually don’t make much sense. For two, they are exceedingly easy to write on accident. And for three, they’re difficult to identify because to completely understand the problem you need to understand something about participles and phrases. So the goal here is to find a good definition for “dangling participle,” draw up a few examples, and explain how the mistake gets made (and can be fixed).

Dangling Participle Dangling Participle

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Contents
Table of contents

    Dangling Participle Definition

    So what’s the definition of a participle, anyway?

    Participle: a verb form that can function as an adjective or assist in certain verb tenses

    A participle is an interesting beast. It’s a verb form that has some traits of an adjective. There are two basic participles: the past participle and the present participle.

    The Past Participle

    The past participle usually ends in -ed, like a simple past tense. However, some are irregular. Consider the verb “to fall.” The past tense of “fall” is “fell.” However, the past participle of “to fall” is “fallen.” You can identify the correct form by using it as an adjective.

    The fell man whimpered in defeat.

    The fallen man whimpered in defeat.

    However, as noted, sometimes the simple past tense and past participle are identical.

    We caked the car in mud.

    The caked car rumbled down the road.

    The simple past and past participle can even be identical if the verb is irregular in the simple past.

    The woman cut the tree.

    The cut tree reverberated.

    Dangling participle. A chainsaw cutting a tree. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - You can see how "cut" functions similarly to an adjective.

    The Present Participle

    The present participle ends in -ing. Like the past participle, it can be used as an adjective.

    The running car belched exhaust.

    The crying child banged on the floor.

    Fortunately, there are no additional tricks to the present participle’s basic form. All verbs have a present participle form ending in -ing.

    The Dangling Participle

    As you’ve learned, the participle is great at describing things like an adjective.

    Dangling participle: occurs when a participle does not describe anything in the sentence

    This most often occurs when the participle is turned into a participle phrase.

    Running hither and thither, the stock exchange is in a tizzy.

    More in a moment on the participle phrase. Right now, notice the present participle “running.” Clearly, it is meant to modify or describe something that is running. Grammatically, you look for what “running” modifies by looking at the word following the comma. In this case, that’s “the stock exchange.”

    However, the stock exchange can’t run hither and thither. While it might be implied that the people on the stock exchange floor are running hither and thither, this is not enough to make the sentence grammatical. Dangling participles often occur this way — not because the writer miswrites a sentence but because the writer thinks the subject is close enough or implied enough.

    Unfortunately, it’s not enough. The dangling participle is a grammatical error.

    The Exception: There’s one small exception to the rule, which is when you’re addressing someone, and the implied subject is “you.”

    • Popping off like that at me, don’t do it again!
    • Flopping around like a fish, pull yourself together!

    Even this is only really used in speech and written dialogue. You’re also likely to see such dialogue written like this:

    • Popping off like that at me… don’t do it again!
    • Flopping around like a fish — pull yourself together!

    There are many ways to capture speech in writing, and it’s often more about style than grammar. One final thing to note is that “you” frequently appears with participle phrases, so don’t think that “you” equals “implied.”

    • Popping off like that at me, you horrible creature!
    • Flopping around like a fish, you’re nothing but a spineless sod!

    Dangling Participle Phrases

    So what is a phrase exactly? From the start, you’ve known it’s longer than a single word.

    Phrase: a group of words that communicates an idea but lacks a subject and predicate together

    Here’s an example.

    Written yesterday

    This is a participle phrase that lacks a subject. By their nature, participle phrases lack subjects because they always modify a subject the way an adjective does.

    Written yesterday, the report outlines the great things about this township.

    While participles can dangle without being part of a phrase, it’s not likely to happen.

    Written, people now hate what they don’t understand.

    Here, the participle “written” is dangling indeed. However, it’s so blatantly dangling that no one would ever write this. Dangling participles thrive when they can get lost among words, ideas, and expanded context.

    Written 10,000 years ago in the infancy of our primordial empire, during a time people still appreciated literature, people now hate what they don’t understand.

    This example illustrates a more reasonable scenario for a dangling participle to appear. Here, the ancient sci-fi tome is implicit. However, as the focus on the participle phrase shifts to “people,” it’s easy to forget the phrase still hinges upon “written.” Just like in the previous, shorter example, this example attempts to modify “people” with “written,” which is grammatically incorrect.

    Dangling Participle Example

    Here’s a good example of how a dangling participle can be found in a verb tense. This example uses the continuous tense.

    The continuous tense uses the present participle to indicate that something was going on, is going on, or will be going on.

    I was jumping. (past continuous)

    I am jumping. (present continuous)

    I will be jumping. (future continuous)

    You can turn this into a participle phrase + independent clause.

    Jumping into the bush, my neighbor scowled.

    An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence. It contains a subject + predicate.

    In this example, the present participle “jumping” correctly modifies “my neighbor.” Here’s what it would look like dangling:

    Jumping into the bush like some kind of rebel skirmisher, this day is getting weirder by the minute!

    Here, the person doing the jumping is implied; however, “jumping” technically modifies “this day,” which is grammatically incorrect.

    So now you have a plethora of dangling participles. The next question is, how do you fix them?

    Dangling participle. A bush. StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - The first step to solving a problem is identifying it. So, who's jumping in the bush?

    Mistake Of A Dangling Participle

    Here’s what makes a dangling participle a mistake:

    A dangling participle fails to mention (and properly place) what it modifies.

    So, to fix the mistake, the subject needs to be present and properly placed. Here are three familiar dangling participles, which you can then fix.

    1. Running hither and thither, the stock exchange is in a tizzy.

    1. Written 10,000 years ago in the infancy of our primordial empire, during a time people still appreciated literature, people now hate what they don’t understand.

    1. Jumping into the bush like some kind of rebel skirmisher, this day is getting weirder by the minute!

    To fix these, identify the actual subjects:

    1. People on the stock exchange floor

    2. The ancient tome

    3. My neighbor

    Now, rewrite each sentence to place the subject after the comma.

    1. Running hither and thither, the people on the stock exchange floor were in a tizzy.

    1. Written 10,000 years ago in the infancy of our primordial empire, during a time people still appreciated literature, the ancient tome is now hated by those who don’t understand it.

    1. Jumping into the bush like some kind of rebel skirmisher, my neighbor is making this day weirder by the minute!

    If you want to check your work, you can match up the participle to the subject:

    1. Running modifies people

    2. Written modifies ancient tome

    3. Jumping modifies my neighbor

    It all checks out! There’s just one more thing to look at: the misplaced modifier, a similar but different grammatical error.

    Dangling Participle vs. Misplaced Modifier

    How does the dangling participle differ from the misplaced modifier? Without going into all the things a misplaced modifier is — and suffice to say — a misplaced modifier is not as close as it should be to its subject, which causes confusion.

    Red and blooming, I love roses.

    Here, “roses” appears in the sentence. However, the phrase “red and blooming” is closer to “I” than “roses,” which makes it appear as though “red and blooming” modifies “I” and not “roses.” It should appear something like this:

    Roses, red and blooming, make me fall in love.

    Dangling modifiers can use adjectives, prepositions, etc., whereas the dangling participle specifically refers to an error with a participle. As a fact, a dangling participle is a kind of misplaced modifier, because if something dangles, it is misplaced, and a participle is a kind of modifier because it modifies a subject.

    There's one other thing to clarify: the dangling modifier. A dangling modifier is like a dangling participle, but it can dangle using a participle, an adjective, or anything else. Here's an example.

    Angry at her friends, this is not what she had expected at the party.

    Here, "angry" is an adjective, but it dangles in the same way as a dangling participle does. "Angry" doesn't modify "this" accurately.

    If you're struggling to place each error in context, here's a quick chart.

    Contains participle

    Dangles

    Dangling participle

    Yes

    Yes

    Dangling modifier

    Might

    Yes

    Misplaced modifier

    Might

    Might

    So, a dangling participle is a kind of dangling modifier, which is, in turn, a kind of misplaced modifier!

    • A dangling participle is a participle that lacks a subject to modify.
    • A dangling modifier is a modifier that lacks a subject to modify.
    • A misplaced modifier is any modifier that's not in the right place.

    Dangling Participle - Key Takeaways

    • A participle is a verb form that can function as an adjective or assist in certain verb tenses.
    • A past participle is a word like "fallen." A present participle is a word like "running."
    • The dangling participle occurs when a participle does not describe anything in the sentence.
    • The longer the participle phrase, the easier it is to dangle on accident.
    • Somewhat different, a misplaced modifier describes a modifier that isn’t in the right place.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Dangling Participle

    What is a dangling participle?

    The dangling participle occurs when a participle does not describe anything in the sentence.

    What is an example of a dangling participle?

    "Running hither and thither, the stock exchange is in a tizzy." The participle "running" should not modify "the stock exchange" as it does. Instead, it should modify something like "the people of the stock exchange."

    How do you fix a dangling participle?

    Identify it, and then replace the word following the comma with the correct subject. For example, change "Running hither and thither, the stock exchange is in a tizzy" into "Running hither and thither, the people on the stock exchange floor were in a tizzy."

    What is the problem with dangling participles?

    They are grammatical errors. Fundamentally, a dangling participle doesn't modify anything, which is a problem because all parts of a sentence should make sense.

    What is the difference between a dangling modifier and a dangling participle?

    A dangling participle is a kind of dangling modifier. A dangling participle is a participle that lacks a subject to modify. A dangling modifier is any modifier that lacks a subject to modify.


    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which is a correct past participle?

    Which is a dangling participle?

    A participle phrase modifies the word that follows the _____.

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