What to Do When a Dangling Participle Defies Revision

By Mark Nichol

A dangling participle is a construction in which the participle, or verb, that follows the subject of a sentence is not associated with an introductory phrase, leaving the participle dangling. For example, in “As a client, we know this new standard may affect you and your financial-reporting requirements,” the subject “we” is identified in the introductory phrase (which modifies we) “as a client.”

But “as a client” modifies you, not we, and because we, not you, is the subject, that phrase is not appropriate at the head of the sentence. Often, such phrases can simply be relocated (with or without slight rewording) so that it is adjacent to the word it modifies, and the subject can begin the sentence.

However, in this case, each of several permutations is problematic:

In “We know, as one of our clients, that this new standard may affect you and your financial-reporting requirements,” the implication is that the party identified as “we” is one of its own clients.

“We know that, as one of our clients, this new standard may affect you and your financial-reporting requirements” implies that the new standard, not the person identified as “you,” is a client of “we.”

And “We know that you, as one of our clients, and your financial-reporting requirements may be affected by this new standard” suggests that being one of the clients of “we” is the cause of being affected by the new standard.

In this case, the best solution is probably to further distinguish the two components of this sentence—the statement that the reader is a client of the business that produced the message and the information about the implications of the new standard—in a revised and expanded statement such as this: “You are one of our valued clients, and we want to make sure you know that this new standard may affect you and your financial-reporting requirements.”

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5 Responses to “What to Do When a Dangling Participle Defies Revision”

  • Ed Good

    This exercise does not involve a dangling participle. The “as a client” is a prepositional phrase, not a participial phrase. It acts as an adjective, and, because of its faulty placement, fails to modify the grammatical subject. It is thus a “dangling modifier” or an “unattached modifier.” It is not a dangling participle, for not a single participle appears in the sentence.

  • Steve

    We know this new standard may affect you–the client–and your financial-reporting requirements.

    I don’t know if this works. I did laugh to myself when I first tried this with commas in place of the dash and realized I’d accidentally created a serial list of three!

    Maybe our clients should take their business elsewhere.

  • Agua Caliente

    I agree with Michael—at least technically. Unfortunately, there are forces in play here that would, in many cases, prevent that edit. The “As a client, we know…” construct, however abhorrent, will be understood immediately by most audiences for which it’s intended. Actual clients will identify with the intent, not the error. “Valued client,” while perhaps a bit hackneyed by now, still resonates well. Business communicators know this and would be loath to correct or change the error, simply because it works. Although Mark’s solution dispenses with brevity in favor of clarity, I think that “valued client” in this context is a key and resonant phrase that may make the solution an expansive one.

  • Michael Tevlin

    I would have gone for brevity: “This new standard may affect you and your financial-reporting requirements.” After all, “we know” is superfluous—you wouldn’t make the statement if you didn’t know it. And the clients know they’re clients—no need to restate that.

  • Gary Pandolfi

    The latest post “What to Do When a Dangling Participle Defies Revision” has no example of a participle in it. A participle is a verb form used as an adjective. The introductory phrase here is a prepositional phrase used as an adverb.

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