Dangling Participles


Another way to improve one’s prose is to address any dangling participles (DP). This article will define this term and how best to use it in written work, whether in essays or novels. It can be tricky to spot at first, but addressing DP adds clarity to a sentence, providing information that the reader may not have. Let’s begin with a basic definition.

What is a participle?

Participles are challenging to define, but generally speaking, they are a word similar to both an adjective and a verb. Take the phrase polish for example. You can say: it’s time to polish the wardrobe. This uses the vocab as a verb. If you say: the polished wardrobe, then the verb acts as an adjective, describing the wardrobe.

Other examples of participles may attach an -ed or an -ing to the end of the verb to create the past or present participle, respectively. This is the crux of what a participle is. They have other uses too as with verb tenses, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

Participle Phrase

When you have a group of words with a participle in it, it’s called a participle phrase (PP). Consider the following:

Running up the hill, Pepper heard the churning waterfall.

Taking a breather, Tarie considered the canyon that yawned in the distance.

The underlined words are the PP. Notice how they modify the second half of the sentence, using run and take as the base verbs for Pepper and Tarie. Here’s one more example:

Calming herself, Pepper felt the mindful void.

Notice the proximity of the PP to the modified subject: Pepper. The noun doesn’t have to be adjacent, but it helps clarify what the PP modifies.

Dangling participle

DP occurs when the subject modified is unclear, leaving a dangling impression or meaning to the sentence. Here’s an example:

Running up the hill, the waterfall churned noisily for Pepper.

Taking a breather, the canyon yawned in the distance in front of Tarie.

In these examples, it sounds like the waterfall and canyon are modified. The correct identifier doesn’t follow, even if the author thinks it does. Implied modifications are never wise in prose. Always bring the proper noun/subject closer to the PP, like sticking them together with glue. That said, you can call this process glue participles, or glue parts, to help remember. 🙂

Here and here are more examples and exercises.


As with all written work, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes an author may desire a DP for the sake of comedy or to highlight a point (most DP read hilariously). Whatever the reason, make sure the audience understands the rationale behind the DP if you choose to include it. Nine times out of ten, DP won’t be the best choice; but you’re the author of your own story or world so you can choose and define how prose should flow in your universe. Mainstream professionals may not agree, but as long as your audience comprehends, it can work. Just food for thought.

Thank you for reading! Leave any feedback or questions in the comments below. Cheers. 🙂


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