Dangling Participles

dangling_participle

Another revisit to a past post, this article describes how to improve one’s prose via dangling participles. I 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 dangling participles adds clarity to a sentence, providing information that the reader may not have. Let’s begin with a basic definition of all the terms.

Definitions

Participles

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 these examples:

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 participle phrase to the modified subject: Pepper. The noun doesn’t have to be adjacent, but it helps clarify what the participle phrase modifies.

Dangling Participle

A dangling participle 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 participle phrase, like sticking them together with glue. That said, you can call this process glue participles, or glue parts, to help remember how to address dangling participles. 🙂

Here and here are more examples and exercises for those of you who are curious.

Exceptions

Comedy

As with most mechanics in the English language, there are exceptions. Sometimes an author may desire a dangling participle for the sake of comedy (most dangling participles read hilariously).

Steering Prose

A dangling participle can also—albeit crudely—keep a sentence or even a paragraph centered on a specific item. First, read the article as an unfamiliar reader would. Examine how the paragraph influences the reader’s perspective.

When done correctly, a writer can manipulate a reader’s viewpoint in creative ways. This can lead to interesting prose that may build up to a particular point later on.

Conclusion

Whatever the reason for using a dangling participle, make sure the audience understands the rationale behind using one.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Reread over your prose and dissect the usage of a dangling participle. Here are some questions to help:

  1. What is the participle—the modifier—in the sentence?
  2. What is the subject of the modification?
  3. Is the subject close to the participle for clarification?
  4. What is the objective of the dangling participle—if it exists—in this sentence?
  5. Can I do without it?
  6. Are there any other options available?

Develop a solid understanding of the sentence first before you rewrite or change the prose. Don’t speed through it. The mind takes time to analyze the layers that constitute English writing.

Rules Are Meant to be Broken?

Nine times out of ten, a dangling participle 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.

Mainstream professionals may not agree, but as long as your audience comprehends the reason behind a dangling participle, it should read okay—I say that lightly. Yet there’s always that one way to make it work. I’m certainly not a master of it.

I hope this article has helped you with any questions concerning dangling participles and the other vocabulary associated therein. Happy writing and thank you for reading!

Another mention to all you NaNoWriMo writers—a job well done. Sadly, I was too busy to engage this year. I’m hoping to attempt NaNoWriMo next November. Until then, there’s plenty to read, write, and research. Cheers. 🙂


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