You know what’s really fun to edit? Dangling participles. What’s a participle? Glad you asked.

Don't Leave Your Participle Dangling

What’s a Participle?

For example, you might go for a light 15k in your running shoes. Or your sister might be screaming because she burned herself with her curling iron. Make sense?

What’s a Participial Phrase?

If you’re using a participle as part of a phrase that modifies a sentence, that’s called a participial phrase.

Sometimes, participial phrases add to a sentence. For example:

Cracking her gum, Eloise twirled her ponytail around her middle finger, sending a less-than-subtle message to her ex-boyfriend.

The subject of this sentence is Eloise. She’s the one cracking her gum and sending a message. With all these participial phrases, we get a vivid picture of Eloise in just a few words.

Even though this works, you want to use participial phrases sparingly. It becomes really distracting to read five or six sentences like this in a paragraph.

What’s a Dangling Participle?

The trouble starts when there is a participial phrase with no clear subject. That is called a dangling participle.

These can conjure up some hilarious images when you’re editing. For example:

Wishing I was in better shape, my run ended in wheezing and spitting.

What? That doesn’t make any sense. The subject that the participial phrase is supposed to be modifying is ambiguous at best and nonexistent at worst.

According to this sentence, my run is wishing I was in better shape.

Now we have a dangling participle.

Think of it this way: the participial phrase is dangling off a cliff unless it has a clear subject that it can find its footing on.

Help Your Participles Find Their Footing

Casual readers may gloss over dangling participles, assuming that I’m the one wishing, not my run. Astute eyes, however, will get hung up on the confusing sentence structure.

Don’t leave your participles to dangle and give astute eyes reason to wonder. Double-check your subjects and help your participles find their footing.

Do you have any absurd examples of dangling participles? Share your funny finds with me in the comments.

PRACTICE

You have a character who’s running a marathon in a month. Describe their training process using participial phrases, but without leaving any of them to dangle.

When you’ve written for fifteen minutes, post your practice in the comments and leave notes for your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she’s not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.