Avoid Dangling Participles

One of the most common writing mistakes is the dangling participle. It not only confuses the reader as to what the writer is saying, but it also completely damages the flow of writing. So how should one avoid making this mistake? But first… what is a dangling participle?

A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective. Present participles are formed by adding –ing. For example, crying or swimming.  Past participles are formed by adding –ed.  For example, twisted or talked. (There are some irregular past participles as well – like –ade, -own, -en, etc. Only examples with –ed will be used here, but the same goes with the other endings.) These participles given here as examples –crying, swimming, twisted, and talked – are verbs but can act like adjectives as well. For example:

The crying baby was hungry.

The swimming competition is on Monday.

The twisted rope hung from the tree.

The most talked stories of the day are of the Winter Olympics.

In these examples, crying, swimming, twisted, and talked are verbs that are acting like adjectives. Hence, they are participles.

So what are dangling participles?

The word “dangling” means “hanging”. So, a dangling participle is a participle that is just hanging there in your sentence, without a subject or anything else. For example:

Flitting from flower to flower, the girl watched the butterfly.

Who is flitting? The girl or the butterfly?

Walking down the road, a friend bumped into me.

Who bumped? The friend or me?

In these examples, the participles have no subjects. They are “dangling”, making the sentences confusing as to what exactly the writer is saying. This has made the writing ambiguous, and we all know that ambiguous writing is bad writing. Therefore, when writing, be careful and avoid writing dangling participles. This can easily be done by giving the participle a proper subject, generally given right after the participle. Like this –

Example 1: Flitting from flower to flower, the butterfly was watched by the girl. Or, rewrite as – The girl watched the butterfly flitting from flower to flower.

Example 2: Walking down the road, I bumped into a friend.

Sometimes dangling participles can be so funny that they make you laugh. Have you ever come across such participles? What have been the funniest dangling participles that you have seen written?

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3 Responses

  1. Great Post, thank you for sharing this!
    It is so easy to fall into error on this subject while writing… I always think I am very careful not to do it but I have to reread it 2 or 3 times to get the flow right :)

  2. Thank you for liking the post, Lua.
    You’re right, we all tend to fall into this error some time or the other. We just have to be careful.

  3. サマンサ バック

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