Here’s something to avoid in your written communications. Inexperienced writers (and even some experienced ones!) occasionally make dangling participle errors. Sound like something your high-school English teacher would say? Maybe, but professionals do not dare to make errors like these. Professional-level writing requires a professional-level understanding of grammar and clarity.
A participle is a verb that is constructed with either an –ing or an –ed ending that may be used as an adjective.
- Ex.: He ate scrambled eggs for breakfast. She enjoys her expanding portfolio.
Adding a participle to related words creates a participial phrase.
- Ex.: Still holding the newspaper in his mouth, the dog ran from his master.
But notice what happens when the participial phrase is moved to the end. Consider the following:
- Ex.: The dog ran from his master, still holding the newspaper in his mouth.
The author likely intended the participial phrase to apply to the dog, but it doesn’t in this case because it is placed beside “master.” Is the master holding the newspaper in his mouth?
Here are two more examples:
- Ex.: After being whipped fiercely, the cook boiled the egg.
- Ex.: Flitting gaily from flower to flower, the football player watched the bee.
Has the cook just been flogged? Does the linebacker flit gaily?
The grammatical problem in these sentences rests with the placement of the participles and their antecedents, the nouns which are modified. A participle without a clear antecedent is called a “dangling participle,” because it’s left “dangling.” Make sure that phrases modifying nouns are placed beside the noun being modified.