Dangling Participle


English participles intro

English participles are forms of the verb you cannot use by themselves as verbs. They must be used together with helping verbs (as if they "participate"!).

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Examples (participles are in bold, helping verbs are underlined):
  • Julie is cooking us dinner.

  • We were sleeping for a long time.

  • You will be flying to Boston this time tomorrow.

  • Michael has lost all his money.

  • Jennifer had returned home by the time I got there.

  • They will have painted the house this time next week.

Dangling Participle1

Participles as adjectives

Participles can be used as adjectives.

Compare these two sentences:
  • Beth is confusing everyone.
    (Confusing = verb)
  • That confusing puzzle should be simplified.
    (Confusing = adjective).

Dangling Participle2

Here are some more examples with participles used as adjectives (The participles are in bold. The nouns they describe are underlined.):

  • The robber, still holding the money and gun, noticed the security camera.
    ("Holding" describes the robber, so it is used as an adjective.)

  • The baker, sweating in the heat, closed the oven door.
    ("Sweating" describes the baker, so it is used as an adjective.)

  • Amanda, crying her lungs out, hit the table one more time.
    ("Crying" describes Amanda, so it is used as an adjective.)

  • Little Richard, lost in the crowd, looked for his father.
    ("Lost" describes little Richard, so it is used as an adjective.)

  • The vase, broken into many pieces, could not have been recognized.
    ("Broken" describes the vase, so it is used as an adjective.)

  • John saw Rebecca, still sitting at the coffee shop.
    ("Sitting" is used as an adjective.
    Note that the participle always describes the closest noun, in this case Rebecca.)

  • Ashley will win the competition and the money, safely stored in the vault.
    ("Stored" is used as an adjective.
    Note that the participle always describes the closest noun, in this case the money.)

  • The cat will catch the mouse, hiding in its hole.
    ("Hiding" is used as an adjective.
    Note that the participle always describes the closest noun, in this case the mouse.)

Dangling Participle
So far so good, right?

But if you don't pay enough attention when using these participle adjectives, you may find yourself with a confusing sentence.

Dangling participles examples

Take a look at these examples.
(Participles are in bold. The nouns they describe are underlined.):

  • After being well heated, Emily entered the hot water.
    (It seems that the water was well heated, but for some reason "heated" is next to Emily. Was Emily well heated?!)

  • Jack looked at his baby, gently holding her little head.
    (It seems that Jack was holding  the baby's little head, but for some reason "holding" is next to the baby. Was the baby holding her little head by herself?!)

  • After winning the war, the British army left the American colonies.
    (We know that the American colonies won that war, but for some reason "winning" is next to the British army. Did the British win the American War of Independence?!)

    This sentence should have been written:
    After winning the war, the American colonies were left alone by the British army.

    Or

    The British army lost the war and left the American colonies.

    (Or something else of this nature.)

  • Growing stronger every day, the doctor observed his healing patients.
    (It seems that the healing patients were growing stronger every day, but for some reason "growing" is next to the doctor. Was the doctor growing stronger every day?!)

    This sentence should have been written:
    The doctor observed his healing patients growing stronger every day.

Dangling Participle

All these sentences contained incorrect usages of participles as adjectives.
They are called dangling participles.

Dangling participles conclusion

"Dangling" means "hanging freely."

A dangling participle is a participle that is not located next to the noun it describes. This makes the sentence confusing.

So when writing and dealing with participles, make sure you don't leave them "dangling." In other words, make sure the participle is closest to the noun it describes, and not to some other noun in the sentence.

If you can't do that – rephrase the sentence in a different way without using a participle!

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