Dangling Participles http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/dangling-participles.aspx
Episode 208: February 11, 2010
by Mignon Fogarty
Before we talk about what it means to dangle a participle, we have to answer the question What is a participle?
A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective. The present participle form of a verb usually ends with "ing." For example, "dream" is a verb, and "dreaming" is its present participle. "Swim" is a verb, and "swimming" is its present participle. To use the verb, you could say, "We'll swim after class." "Swim" is an action, a verb.
Here's another example: "hike" is a verb, and "hiking" is the present participle. To use the verb, you could say "Let's hike the trail." To use the participle, you could say, "Don't forget your hiking boots." "Hiking," the participle, tells you what kind of boots I want you to bring.
So now I trust that you understand how to use verb and their participles, but to understand dangling participles, we need to talk about participial phrases.* These are just phrases that contain a participle and modify the subject of the sentence.
They can include words besides the participle, such as prepositions, pronouns, and nouns, but for now, we'll just focus on the idea that they contain a participle like "swimming" or "hiking." 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--the subject.
"Floating in the pool" is the participial phrase that modifies the subject, "I." "Floating" is the participle in the phrase "floating in the pool."
"Biting his victim" is the participial phrase that modifies the subject, "the vampire." "Biting" is the participle in the phrase "biting his victim."
"Beating you over the head with examples" is the participial phrase modifying the subject, "I." "Beating" is the participle in the phrase "beating you over the head with examples."
In all three of those examples, the subject that was being modified by the participial phrase came right after the phrase. It was sticking close to the modifier so you couldn't miss it. The participial phrase doesn't have to be at the beginning of a sentence, but that is the place where it's most likely to dangle, so we'll stick with that format today.
Now we're ready to learn about dangling participles, because 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 as much as you hate it when a friend stands you up for lunch.
The birds are the only subject in the sentence, and they directly follow the participial phrase. The participial phrase has to grab on to something so it's not just dangling there, so it grabs the only subject--the birds. So what that sentence says is that the birds were hiking the trail, and that's probably not what I mean. There was probably somebody hiking the trail and hearing the birds chirping loudly.
We can fix it by adding the proper subject right after the participial phrase:
Did you see the problem? The high notes are the only subject in the sentence, so the participial phrase "wishing I could sing" attaches to that noun because it doesn't want to dangle. That makes a sentence that says the high notes wish I could sing. If they were capable of wishing, they might wish I could sing, but what I'm really trying to say in that sentence is
In that sentence, "wishing I could sing" correctly modifies the subject "I," and it makes a lot more sense than imagining cringing high notes.
So to sum up, a dangling participle modifies the wrong noun. Usually you've left the subject implied and are taking for granted that your reader will know what you mean, which is generally not a good writing strategy. You fix a dangling modifier by putting the proper subject in the sentence, usually right after the participle or participial phrase.
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Underline the verb and circle the participle in these sentences.
The swimming pool heaved during the earthquake.
She dropped her curling iron.
I have a hammering headache.
Every day Julie is thankful for running water.
The battering ram failed the test.
Underline the participial phrase and draw an arrow to the subject it is modifying.
Ordering pizza, I pondered Italian seasonings.
Hoping for a raise, Loubell scheduled the meeting for a time when her boss was most often in a good mood.
Flailing in the surf, Pat hoped the lifeguard would get there soon.
Fighting over restaurants again, Sue and Rambo wondered if they should just skip dinner.
Rising on the horizon, the blazing sun signaled a brand new day.
Not all participial phrases are at the beginning of sentences or are in the present tense. Underline the participial phrases in these examples.
The instructor, beating the students over the head with examples, hoped to make participial phrases easier to identify.
Wounded by an arrow, Jim's horse drug him down the path.
Squiggly called to the peeves hiding in the trees.
Trimming and coloring Jill's green spiky hair, the stylist daydreamed about bonsai trees.
* Some people call these participial clauses or participial units.
Misplaced Modifiers http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/misplaced-modifiers.aspx
Episode 55: May 18, 2007
by Mignon Fogarty
Of all the writing errors you can make, misplaced modifiers are among the most likely to confuse your readers, but they're also kind of fun because misplaced modifiers can give your sentences silly meanings that you never intended. If you're not careful, you can end up writing that your boss is a corn muffin instead of that your boss invested incorn muffins.
Modifiers are just what they sound like—words or phrases that modify something else. Misplaced modifiers are modifiers that modify something you didn't intend them to modify. For example, the word only is a modifier that's easy to misplace.
The first sentence (I ate only vegetables) means that I ate nothing butvegetables—no fruit, no meat, just vegetables.
The first sentence (I almost failed every art class I took) means that although it was close, I passed all those classes.
A similar rule applies when you have a short phrase at the beginning of a sentence: whatever the phrase refers to should immediately follow the comma. Here's an example:
In that sentence, it's Squiggly, not the rocks, rolling down the hill because the word Squiggly is what comes immediately after the modifying phrase, rolling down the hill.
In that sentence, Aardvark—not the hillside—is covered with wildflowers because the word Aardvark is what comes directly after the modifying phrase, covered in wildflowers.
Modifiers are so funny! In addition to misplacing them, you can dangle them and make them squint!
The way the sentence is written, the birds are hiking the trail because they are the only subject present in the sentence. If that's not what you mean, you need to rewrite the sentence to something like, “Hiking the trail, Squiggly and Aardvark heard birds chirping loudly.”
As written, that sentence could mean two different things: children who rarely laugh are shy, or children who laugh are rarely shy.