Dangling participles make grammar geeks blush. It’s true. We’re not quite sure where to look or what to say as you stand there with your participial hanging out of your sentence. Not quite sure to what I am referring? Then you, dear reader, have been victim of having this embarrassing language faux pas happen to you. Never fear, however; I am here to explain what this dirty little mistake is and how to fix it.
To make this a quickie lesson, we’ll just discuss the participle’s main function: it is a verb with an –ing ending which acts as an adjective. For example, take the verb “fly” in a sentence. The pilot will fly at dawn. Now take the verb “fly” and add an –ing. The flying students will begin class at dawn. The word “flying” is no longer a verb; it is an adjective. In other words, the word “fly” went to his mom’s closet, grabbed her high heels, and began playing dress up.
Now that you have an idea of what a participle is (just think cross-dressing verbs), we need to discuss where the phrase comes in. This happens when a cross-dressing verb decides to hook up with his buddies and go out on the town. He can call up his buddies, the preposition, the noun, or the pronoun. Together these troublemakers can really paint the town. In fact, these guys are in charge of making the subject of the sentence a little more colorful.
Here are a few examples of participial phrases:
Browsing the aisles of Wal-Mart, the lady soon realized she’d forgotten to put on pants.
Hiking up the mountain trail, the hikers were unaware of being stalked by a rabid bear.
In both examples, the underlined participial phrases are correctly telling us more about the subjects.
So what is so naughty about a dangling participle? This …
Hammering the nails into the 2 x 4s, the sun beat down on his shoulders.
I have a hard time believing that the sun itself was hammering nails. All that’s missing is the proper subject of the sentence. Who was hammering nails? Let’s say Pete was hammering nails. Our sentence would look slightly better. Hammering the nails into the 2 x 4s, Pete felt the sun beat down on his shoulders. See the difference?
After shriveling in the sun for days, my sister finally cleaned up the rotted apples under the tree.
Rushing from the room, the bowl fell out of Eve’s hands and smashed to the ground.
After stabilizing his patient, the ambulance left the accident scene with sirens screaming.
Grabbing his backpack and rushing from the room, the bell rang.
You should be able to find the errors in the above four sentences. Maybe you are blushing as you witness the sentence streaking across the page without its participle tucked in neatly within itself. If you are, then you have crossed into the city limits of Grammar Geekville. Embrace this new citizenship and be watchful for neighbors who like to expose their participles.