Monday, 27 July 2009

How to Avoid and Correct Dangling Participles

“Thou art a yeasty, onion-eyed, whoreson rabbit-sucker, and I shall remove from thee a pound of flesh if thou dost permit thy participles to dangle."
~ Shakespeare (Cannibal) on dangling participles

I toyed with the idea of writing a wittier title to this post - but I personally find the phrase 'dangling participle' humorous enough. I don't know quite what that says about me. Besides, I think the Shakespeare quote introduces the topic nicely.

Everyone wants to tidy up their writing, but most people (myself included) get a little confused with all the technical mumbo jumbo in grammar guides and the such. So what is this little bugger, the 'dangling participle'?

Firstly, 'participles' are the -ing and -ed forms of verbs. So a 'dangling participle' is a participle (usually at the beginning of a sentence) that apparently modifies a word other than the word intended.

It becomes a lot clearer with examples.

'Flying across the country, the lake came into view.'
- I didn't know lakes could fly...

'Cycling down the road, the dog knocked me over.'
- That dog should be in the circus...

'They said it was going to rain on the radio.'
- Well that might break it!

The best way to AVOID writing dangling participles is to understand the structure. If you understand the structure, you are less likely to get it wrong in the first place. However, if upon re-reading/editing your work you do come across a dangling participle, they are pretty easy to CORRECT. It's just a case of simple logic - rewording and reorganising the sentence.

'As we flew across the country, the lake came into view.'

'While I was cycling down the road, the dog knocked me over.'

'On the radio, they said it was going to rain.'

As the confusion created by dangling participles has much to do with the intention of the writer verses the understanding of the reader, it is often best to get a friend or an editor to read through your work. Since you already know what you mean, the dangling participle might not stand out to you as much as it would to a fresh pair of eyes. However, the better you understand dangling participles, the easier they become to correct, or better still, avoid completely.


  1. Nice post. I didn't really know what dangling participles were before this, and I've probably made these mistakes tons of times. Thanks.

  2. My mind is fully occupied with wondering just what a rabbit-sucker actually... no, never mind.

  3. Good info! I've corrected the problem, but couldn't have explained it! I'm like a mechanic who has forgotten the names of car parts but who can fix any problem.

  4. Great, fun examples. Good job.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Thanks, everyone. I'm glad the info was helpful.

    Nice to see you back here, Eric. I've added your blog to my feed :)

    And thanks for stopping by, icopyedit and Morgan - I love your blogs!

    Ian, I was wondering the same thing... Shakespeare really has come up with some amazing (but crazy) insults.

  6. Most excellent examples. And quite helpful. Frankly, I, too, think "dangling participles" is a funny term. It tells you nothing. We should rename it to a term that conjures up an image of what it actually is. I have no idea of what that term would be, mind you. Maybe "rabbit sucker" would be more visual.

    Straight From Hel

  7. wow Sophie that was really helpful. I never knew what a dangling participle was and you explained it in laymans terms - thank you!

  8. I used to watch Benny Hill on tv, and the majority of his comic genius was based on dangling participles..I love them!


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