Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Dangling Participles

What is a participle?

Participles are words formed from verbs that are used as an adjective (running water) or noun (good breeding). There are two types: the present participle (all end in -ing) and the past participle (usually end in -ed or -d – except for those irregulars: gone, been, sought, etc.). 

Participles are often used in subordinate clauses to give extra information about the main clause. When used in this way, the rule is that the participle should always refer to an action performed by the subject of the main clause.

Sarah, carrying a heavy box, climbed up the stairs slowly. 

This sentence is grammatically correct because Sarah is the subject of the main verb (climbed) and the present participle in the subordinate clause (carrying).

What is a dangling participle?

A dangling participle (also known as a hanging or unattached participle) occurs when this rule isn’t followed, and the participle in the subordinate clause doesn’t refer to the subject of the sentence, resulting in a grammatically incorrect statement.

Arriving at the beach, the sun made an appearance.

Grammatically speaking, this sentence is saying that the sun was arriving at the beach, which we know to be wrong. This can be rewritten as:

As I was arriving at the beach, the sun made an appearance. 

The sun made an appearance when we arrived at the beach.

It is best to avoid dangling participles in your writing as they can cause confusion and sometimes amusement, probably not what you, as an author, are intending!



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