The following article by Jessi Rita Hoffman was originally published as a guest post on James Chartrand’s “Men with Pens” website.
Remember “dangling participles” from back in grade-school English class? Probably not, but chances are you create them every day. They’re a major grammatical error, and once you know how to spot them, you’ll find these little nasties everywhere… probably even in your own content.
Rather than subjecting you to a boring definition, here’s a practical example of a dangling participle.
Did you catch the error? The example is right there, two sentences back. Look closely.
Literally, the error sentence says that “here” (not I, the article writer) has decided to give you an example of a dangling participle. But “here” is not a person, so how can “here” make a decision like that?
To be correct, the sentence should read: Rather than subjecting you to a boring definition, I’ll give you a practical example of a dangling participle.
Dangling Participles Can Be Embarrassingly Funny
Still obscure? Don’t worry; it’ll get clearer with a few examples. I remember this next one from my grade school grammar book:
Having five kids and another one on the way, our ironing board is always up.
Yes, I know that dates me (who bothers with ironing boards anymore?), but look at that sentence construction. It’s actually quite funny.
The sentence literally says that the ironing board has five children and is expecting a sixth, therefore it’s always up. The sentence should read: Having five kids and another one on the way, my mother always keeps her ironing board up.
In the corrected sentence, the mother is the subject and “having five kids” refers to her. In the error version, the ironing board is the subject, so “having five kids” refers to the ironing board.
Read the two versions of the sentence (the corrected one and the dangly one) a couple of times until you see why the ironing board is pregnant.
When writing your content, always make sure your participles point to the person or object intended, not to a person or object that takes the sentence in an entirely different direction and destroys your meaning.
It’s not hard to remember this grammar rule, once you grasp the principle behind it. And if you remember the ironing board.
A Real-Life Example
Here’s a real-life example of a dangling participle from a reference letter. The boss wanted to rave about the talents of an employee he had hired. Instead, he made the person sound like an incompetent. Here’s what he wrote …
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional