Imagine if you were to write the following:
“After pooping on the sidewalk, I cleaned up the mess and put Fido back on his leash.”
Now, if I read that, I’d never invite you over for coffee. I mean, if you still aren’t potty-trained I don’t want you at my house.
This is the danger of dangling your participles. Read on to learn how to undangle them and to find out what you need to do to get invited to my house.
Participles made simple
Simply put, a participle, like a gerund, is an “-ing” word.
However, in contrast to a gerund, which is a form of verb that functions as a noun, a participle is a form of verb that functions as an adjective or as a verb in conjunction with an auxiliary verb.
Because distinguishing between a gerund and a participle is very complicated and not in line with my philosophy of painless grammar, I am not going to get into the gory details. If you are interested in a well-written article on the differences, check this out. It’s from Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips, a lovely site which delivers bite-sized grammar tips and a whole lot more.
Now for the good news
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language no longer distinguishes between the gerund and the participle, preferring to call the term a “gerund-participle.” No joke. I don’t know about you, but if it’s good enough for the queen, it’s good enough for me. (Incidentally, she and my mother share the same birthday and are the exact same age.)
There are two important principles to remember about the participle phrase:
- A participle phrase will usually begin with an “ing” word.
- Both clauses in your sentence need to agree with each other. The subject of the sentence must be whoever or whatever is doing the action (the action is the “ing” part of the clause).
Let’s do some examples together. Mind you, the corrected ones aren’t necessarily going to be the best English either, but at least they’ll be grammatically correct. Therefore, I have given a second correct sentence that I feel works better from an editorial point of view.
Fishing for compliments, the Maserati was parked right outside Dora’s house.
Now, unless your car has a big ego and a mind of its own, I doubt it would be fishing for compliments. I am going to take a guess and say that Dora is the subject of this sentence, in which case I would write the following:
Fishing for compliments, Dora parked her Maserati right outside her house.
Here’s an even better way to say the same thing:
Dora wanted everyone to admire her new Maserati, so she parked it right in front of her house.
Notice that I didn’t use the exact same words as in the previous sentences. This is the beauty of editing.
Eating like a pig, the Cap’n Crunch and the doughnuts were soon finished.
Here our subjects are Cap’n Crunch and doughnuts, which don’t eat, pigs or no pigs. We must find the true subject of this sentence, thus:
Here’s another way to say the same thing:
Deena ate like a pig, and soon the Cap’n Crunch and the doughnuts were finished.
Popping up all over, I picked the flowers in my garden.
If I were popping up all over I’d call an ambulance. How about:
Popping up all over, the flowers were ripe for picking.
An even better sentence would be:
The flowers were popping up all over my garden, so I picked them.
While borrowing her shoes, my sister told me to ask first.
Here, my sister is borrowing her own shoes and talking to me about it. I would need to say instead:
“While borrowing my sister’s shoes, I heard her tell me I should have asked first.”
As I was borrowing my sister’s shoes, she came into the room and told me I should have asked first.
And here’s one that will really give an editor or potential boss confidence in your writing (not):
“Having had over twenty years of writing experience, you can be sure that my articles will sparkle with perfect grammar.”
Before you click Send, please rewrite this sentence:
“Having had over twenty years of writing experience, I can assure you that my articles will sparkle with perfect grammar.”
Here’s a rewrite:
“I have over twenty years of writing experience, and my articles sparkle with perfect grammar.
Last but not least, here is the best way to walk your dog, and to get invited over to the best homes:
After Fido did his business on the sidewalk, I cleaned up the mess and reattached his leash.
There you have it; the dangling participle and how to undangle it. Now that you’re aware of it I have full confidence that you’ll never dangle one again.
Do you have any funny examples of dangling modifiers? If so, write them in the comments below.