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Deciding to write a post, WordPress started acting up. The posting page has been showing me a “server disconnected” message and it just won’t get fixed. That is why I have been taking a break from blogging and watching my stats fall.

Anyway, I began this post with a major grammatical error: a dangling participle. But before anything else, here’s a quick refresher: A Participial Phrase is a group of words consisting of a participle and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the participle, such as:

Removing his coat, Jack rushed to the river.

Oh ok, let’s make it simpler. A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective to modify a noun. For example, the word “whipping” is a participle when you say:
I use double cream but you could use a little whipping cream if you prefer.

Another example would be the word “speeding”. We add the -ing to the verb speed in order to make it act like an adjective. So you are using the word “speeding” as an adjective to describe the noun “car” when you say:
The speeding car knocked over the trash can.

Now that we know what a participle is, let’s simplify the meaning of a participial phrase. A participial phrase is one that contains a participle and modifies the subject of the sentence. For example,

Removing his coat, Jack rushed to the river.

Note the use of the participle “removing” and the fact that the participial phrase is modifying the noun subject, here, Jack, instead of a single adjective or noun.

Here’s another one:

Making a strong case for his client, the lawyer smiled to himself.

Here, “Making a strong case for his client” is the participial phrase that modifies the subject, the lawyer. “Making” is the participle in the phrase “Making a strong case for his client”.

Now, if you notice, in all the examples, the participial phrase immediately preceded the subject that is being modified. The correct way to express a participial phrase is to always make sure that the phrase and the modified subject are close so there is no confusion about what is being modified. When this does not happen, when your subject is not clear from the positioning of the participle, it becomes an annoying dangling participle.

Here’s an example:

After rotting in the fridge for weeks, I finally threw the cheese out.

In this sentence, rotting is the participle, but what does it modify? Does the sentence mean I was rotting in the fridge, or does it mean the cheese? However, the sentence would have been correct if I wrote:

After rotting in the fridge for weeks, the cheese needed to be thrown out.

Likewise, I would be using a dangling participle if I wrote,

Leaking ink everywhere, I threw away the pen.

The sentence is incorrect because I cannot be leaking ink. The pen is the real subject here because it is the one that can leak ink. The correct way to write this would be:

I threw out the pen that was leaking ink everywhere.

Yet another example would be the sentence I began this post with:

Deciding to write a post, WordPress started acting up.

WordPress couldn’t have decided to write a post. Here “deciding to write a post” is the participial phrase that is modifying the wrong subject, “WordPress”.

So you see, a dangling participle is essentially one that is modifying the wrong subject. You may assume that your readers or audience will understand what you are trying to say anyway, but that is not how you use correct English. The way to avoid a dangling participle is to simply put the correct subject as close to the participle or participial phrase as possible.

Having explained dangling participles to you, I shall wrap this up now 🙂