My, What An Impressive Dangling Participle!

Couple dancing

Happy (Inter)National Grammar Day, my dear readers!

In honour of this very special day, I thought I would talk about a piece of grammar that we likely all recognize – at least by its name. Every time I say dangling participles my husband chuckles in the background. Most of us have heard of dangling participles, and the inhumanity of doing that to a participle, but how many of us actually know what a participle is and how to prevent it from dangling?

Well, fear not! I’m here to help you become an expert.

So let’s start at the beginning, by looking at participles.

Remember when we talked about gerunds (verbs that act as nouns)? Well, a participle is a verb that acts as an adjective. That means it is used to modify a noun. Here are some examples (participles are in italics):

  • Rippling muscles. Tousled hair. Stolen glance.

Participles come in two forms: present participles end in –ing and past participles typically end in –ed or –en.

A present participle indicates that the verb’s action is in progress.

  • Scarlett gasped in awe as she gazed upon his throbbing member.

A past participle indicates that the verb’s action is complete.

  • In the throes of ecstasy Arabella no longer cared about her tarnished maidenhead.

Okay, so now you know how to identify a participle. How do you know when it’s dangling? Contrary to the image suggested by the term, dangling participles are not participles left hanging at the end of a sentence. They are participles that are not directly related to the noun closest to them, which often creates confusing, ambiguous and illogical sentences. For example:

  • Frequently overlooked in college, Francisco made Eva feel like a sensual princess.

In the above example, Eva was the one overlooked but the placement of the participle suggests that Francisco was overlooked. If we rewrite the sentence, we can make the meaning clear:

  • Eva, frequently overlooked in college, felt like a sensual princess with Francisco.

In English, participles go with the noun closest to them in the sentence. If they are misplaced – or if you don’t include the noun they ought to be modifying – they will end up modifying a different noun, making your sentence downright weird, kind of like this:

  • Heaving in the candlelight, Damian gazed upon Lavinia’s bosom.

Not too sexy when you picture Damian heaving instead of Lavinia’s bosom, is it? A simple rewrite will make the sentence more palatable:

  • Damian gazed upon Lavinia’s bosom heaving in the candlelight.

So please don’t leave your participles dangling. They want to belong, just like the rest of us. They need to be close to their noun in order to fulfill their purpose. Don’t be the jerk that stands in the way of their happiness, especially not on (Inter)National Grammar Day.


Image credit: © Sandra Gligorijevic /

9 thoughts on “My, What An Impressive Dangling Participle!

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