Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grammar-licious: Making Grammar Fun - July

Dangling Participles

This is a fun topic. The name is cute, isn't it? "Dangling participles", also referred to as "dangling modifiers", are troublesome and hard to spot sometimes.

Participles are adjectives ending in -ing. Simple enough, but -ing words they must be used carefully in order to avoid confusion in your writing.

Participles modify nouns. A modifier is a word or phrase that describes another word.

The noun (antecedent) that the participle refers to has to be clear. The participle closest to the noun (it can be in front of or behind the noun) is its partner. Otherwise, you end up with the participle dangling.

If you have an -ing word at the start of the sentence, be on alert. This is a common format where dangling modifiers appear.

Examples are the best teachers:
Dangling: Writing about dangling modifiers, word choice is important to the writer. [This says that word choice is writing.]
Improved: Writing about dangling modifiers, the writer must pay attention to word choice. [the writer is writing.]

Dangling: Standing at the top of the stairs, the view out the window was breathtaking. [This says the view is standing at the top of the stairs.]
Improved: Standing at the top of the stairs, she thought the view out the window was breathtaking. [It makes sense now. She is standing.]

Dangling: Running from the police, the money was still in the robber's hands. [The money is running.]
Improved: Running from the police, the robber still held the money. [Much better to have the robber running away.]

Dangling: After blending the smoothie, the drink was poured into the glass. [The drink was blending itself.]
Improved: After blending the smoothie, the employee poured the drink into the glass. [The employee was blending.]

Dangling: Buzzing contentedly from blossom to blossom, the woman admired the bee. [The woman probably isn't the one buzzing, right?]
Improved: Buzzing contentedly from blossom to blossom, the bee was admired by the woman.
Even better: The woman admired the bee buzzing from blossom to blossom.

My best tip is to not start a sentence with an -ing word. You'll notice it's slower to read than active voice (as in the last example). Not all -ing words are dangling, of course, it just depends on usage in a sentence and where the antecedent (noun) that it pertains to, is located. They need to be next door neighbors to keep each other out of trouble.

If you have grammar topics you’d like to see covered, please leave a comment or email me!

And that wraps up this lesson.

This month’s recommended grammar book is: The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

BIO: Lisa J. Jackson (aka Lisa Haselton) is a self-employed writer and editor. Stop by her site at, or follow her on twitter for twice-a-week ‘Edible Grammar Bites’ at

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