3 Cases of Dangling Participles

By Mark Nichol

Dangling participles are verbs that are intended to refer to a particular noun but that, because of how the main clause of the sentence is crafted, do not support the noun. The main clause, and the subordinate clause (often appearing at the head of the sentence), may in and of themselves be grammatically valid, but they do not match—often with unintentionally humorous results. Here are three sentences that suffer from dangling participles; each is followed by a discussion and a revision.

1. Growing up as an undersized kid, punk music helped him find some sense of belonging.

This sentence erroneously identifies punk music as an undersized kid. To correct this error, a subject that the participle applies to must be inserted at the head of the main clause, which must be further revised to convey the intended idea: “Growing up as an undersized kid, he found some sense of belonging in punk music.” The sentence can also be recast as a simple main clause (“Punk music helped him find some sense of belonging as he grew up as an undersized kid”), but this version is more prosaic.

2. Formally established on May 23, 1947, a primary role of this part-time military force is to conduct surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required.

Here, a primary role, rather than the military force assigned the role, is said to be formally established on a certain date. In this case, the dangling participle can simply be relocated as a parenthetical following the sentence’s subject: “A primary role of this part-time force, formally established on May 23, 1947, is to conduct surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required.”

3. Seemingly perfectly preserved on the outside, the archaeologists were dismayed to find extensive damage within the chamber.

In this sentence, archaeologists are described as being perfectly preserved on the outside. In some cases, the best way to avoid such errors is to thoroughly recast the entire sentence: “The archaeologists were dismayed to find that despite the chamber’s seemingly perfectly preserved exterior, the chamber itself had suffered extensive damage.” (This revision also places the key information at the end of the sentence, resulting in a greater impact.)

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6 Responses to “3 Cases of Dangling Participles”

  • John

    N.3
    What about, “The archaeologists were dismayed to find extensive damage within the chamber as it is perfectly preserved on the outside.”

  • Ron Juge

    I find it dismaying that an article giving ‘proper usage’ tips would have two glaring errors in it.

    I’ve highlighted, with asterisks, them in the quotes here:

    “The sentence can also be *recasting* as a simple main clause (“Punk music helped him find some sense of belonging as he grew up as an undersized kid”), but this version is more prosaic.”

    and

    “(This revision also *place* the key information at the end of the sentence, resulting in a greater impact.)”

    I don’t know if the author was in a rush, or if proofreading has become more obsolete than I’d feared.

    I admit to being a published author, but as to any failures of proper usage on my part in this missive, I am writing in ‘personal mode’ now. And I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee today!

  • venqax

    @John: But as he says, “(This revision also place the key information at the end of the sentence, resulting in a greater impact.)”

  • John

    @venqax: Yes, maybe. Placing the key information at the end of a sentence may well result in a greater impact, but other aspects can jeopardize the meaning of the sentence itself, and that alleged impact too.

  • thebluebird11

    @John and venqax: I think the end result (the revised version) would depend on what the writer wants to emphasize, and on what further text follows. If the writer will go on to describe the extensive damage the archaeologists found, it would be good to have this current sentence end with the key info (i.e. that in spite of the perfectly preserved exterior, they found the extensive damage on the inside). If, however, no further discussion of the damage follows, it might not matter where that info appears.

  • Mark Nichol

    Ron:
    Thanks for your note. The errors have been corrected.

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