The Dangling Participle

Cool beans, but first we must know what a participle is.  A participle will tell you something about a noun.  A participle is a word that is formed from a verb and used as an adjective, or a noun and it can also be used to make compound verb forms.  A participle is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase, and it plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb.  It is one of the types of nonfinite verb forms.  The two main types of participles are the present participle and the past participle.  A present participle is created by adding the suffix “ing” to the base form of a verb.  In the sentence, “All members of the winning team got trophies”, the present participle winning describes the noun team.  A past participle is created by adding the suffix “ed” to the base form of a verb and it is used in forming perfect and passive tenses and sometimes as an adjective.  These are a bit trickier, as some past participles remain the same as the base forms of irregular verbs, like set and cut, because in English we do not say seted or cuted.  Past participles can also end with -d, -t, -en, or –n, besides –ed.   In the sentence, “My heart is wracked with sorrow”, the past participle wracked describes the noun heart.

The easiest way to tell the difference between a verb and a past or present participle is see how the word is used in the sentence.  If it is used as an adjective, it is a participle.  If it is used as the verb of the subject of the sentence, then it is a simple verb.  The perfect participle is a compound verb form that depends on the past participle for its forms, which allows us to use a verb as an adjective.  The perfect participle indicates a completed action and it is formed by putting the present participle ‘having’ (gerund form of have) in front of the past participle.  In the sentence, “Having saved the cat, the firefighter felt happy”, the word ‘having’ is coupled with the past participle saved.  This sentence contains two clauses and the first (the perfect participle clause) influences, and is before, the second.  When the fireman saved the cat, this resulted in the fireman feeling happy, thus a prior action influenced a later action.

Next up is the participle phrase which will always function as an adjective, adding description to the sentence.  Participial phrases function as adjectives that modify the subjects or other nouns in sentences.  In the sentence, “Wearing his new suit, Bill went to work” the participial phrase wearing his new suit acts like an adjective to describe the subject of the sentence, which is Bill.  They can include words besides the participle, such as prepositions, pronouns, and nouns.  The way they modify the subject isn’t as straightforward as a single adjective modifying a single noun, but the participial phrase is still modifying a noun or noun phrase being the subject.

Participle phrases are the most common modifier that will dangle.  A dangling modifier or misplaced modifier is a type of ambiguous grammatical construct whereby a grammatical modifier could be misinterpreted as being associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all.  When you dangle a participle, it means your participial phrase is hanging there in your sentence with no proper subject in sight.  They hate that being left out to dry, or put out in left field just as much as you hate it when a friend stands you up for lunch.  The modifier is misplaced, if you don’t control the distance separates a modifier and its target.  The participle must modify a noun or a pronoun that is capable of performing or receiving the participle’s action.

A dangling modifier walks into a bar.  After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.  In that previous sentence, there is no clear grammatical subject, so it is hard to determine who finished the drink and it certainly wasn’t the bartender.  Metropolis Police negotiated with him, minutes before being shot dead by marksmen.  If the police were shot dead, then why were they involved in negotiating.  You have to assume that a rebel was shot dead, but he is never mentioned in the story.  It would have been nice if the police tried to capture him, instead of letting the marksmen kill him.

Returning to our camp after a day of salmon fishing, a bear had eaten our food.  Since we returned to the camp and not the bear, this sentence can be corrected in either of the two following ways.  You can place the word that the participial phrase modifies next to the participial phrase.  “Returning to our camp after a day of salmon fishing, we discovered (or some other verb) that a bear had eaten our food.”  The other way would be to turn the participial phrase into an adverb clause.  “When we returned to our camp after a day of salmon fishing, a bear had eaten our food.”

There is a whole lot more to know about participles and how to use them properly than I can cover in this post.  I am not an expert on the English language and it would take an eternity to explain everything there is to know on this subject, but I hope that this helped some of you and that now you have a decent understanding of what a participle is.  Tomorrow we will discuss other verb forms like gerunds and infinitives (nope just kidding).

Written for Sheryl’s Daily Word Prompt – Eternity, for the Daily Spur prompt – Metropolis, for FOWC with Fandango – Rebel, for Ragtag Community – Camp and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Capture.

9 thoughts on “The Dangling Participle

    1. Thanks John for reading my post, as I am sure that a lot of people will end up skipping this one just by looking at the title. Maybe I could get back to this another time, but for now I need to write about something else, as this was a bit exhausting trying to put this together and having it make sense, plus getting the prompt words into it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dango and you could also call me the “Burning Man” as I wrote 6 posts yesterday, 4 on Wednesday and 3 on Tuesday. I guess I just feel like writing and this was my third post today and I plan to write one more to satisfy my burning desire.

      Liked by 1 person

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