Monday, March 11, 2019

R&R: Raves and Rants With Amanda Cabot

Banner for Amanda Cabot's Raves and Rants Posts
Before we delve into Amanda's post I want to congratulate her
on the release of her 36th novel, A Tender Hope

The Danger of Dangling Participles
This month we’re going to talk about participles and the sometimes amusing effects of what are often referred to as dangling participles.

Let’s start by defining “participle.” A participle is a form of a verb that functions as an adjective. What differentiates a participle from an ordinary adjective is that it, like a verb, can indicate tense.

Confused? A couple examples may help. You’re all familiar with the verb “to mount.” In the following sentences, that verb has been turned into a participle, each with a different tense.

The mounted elk head dominated the far wall.

There’s no question of tense here. The poor elk’s head has been mounted. Past tense.

Mounting debt can be a problem.

In this case, the debt is ongoing, which is why I used the -ing form of “mount.” Technically, that’s a gerund, but who really cares? What’s important is that in these examples, we see forms of verbs being used as adjectives, and there’s no question about which noun each of the participles modifies.

The confusion comes when participles are used as part of a phrase. Grammarians would refer to those as participial phrases, but to make things simpler, I’ll call them participles.

Dangling Participle drawing, letters on hanging phone cords

Let’s start with examples of the correct usage.

Driving into town, Charlotte saw two elk.

“Driving into town” is a participle, and – again – there’s no question about what it modifies. It’s Charlotte who’s driving into town.

Let’s expand our sentence.

Driving into town, Charlotte saw two elk crossing the road.

I’ve added a second participle, “crossing the road.” Any question about who/what’s crossing the road? Of course not.

The reason there’s no confusion about which nouns are being modified is because of the participles’ positions. The participles are either immediately before or after the nouns they modify. That’s the rule: a participle must be next to the word it modifies.

A picture of two elk standing the road near Estes Park, Colorado

If the sentence were, “Crossing the road, Charlotte saw two elk.” It would have a very different meaning from our original example. In this case, Charlotte is crossing the road, since “Charlotte” is the noun immediately following the participle. Was that what the author intended? Maybe, and maybe not.

What about this one?

Immersed in the audio book, the elk crossed the road in front of Charlotte.

Do you really think the elk were immersed in an audio book? Not likely! This is a classic example of a dangling participle. Correcting it requires restructuring the sentence a bit.

The elk crossed the road in front of Charlotte, who was immersed in an audio book.

Note that the correction does not include a participle.

Here’s another example of a dangling participle.

        Wrapped in a heavy quilt, the night air was cold on Mary’s face.

Who’s wrapped in a heavy quilt? While the author undoubtedly meant that Mary was wrapped in that quilt, the position of the participle says that it was the night air that was wrapped in a quilt.

How can you avoid having dangling participles? The only sure way is to read each sentence carefully and be certain you’ve put the participle in its correct place. It may not be easy at first, but you don’t want your readers laughing for the wrong reason, do you?

I hope to see you again next month when we’ll explore A Case of Pronouns.


Cover of A Tender HopeAmanda Cabot Headshot
A lifetime of reading and writing, not to mention a host of teachers who believed that good grammar was one of the essentials of life, have given Amanda Cabot such firm opinions about the printed word that I asked her to share some with us in her Raves and Rants posts.  

Although her working career was in Information Technology, Amanda achieved her dream of selling her first novel before her thirtieth birthday and is now the author of more than thirty novels as well as a number of books and articles for Information Technology professionals.  

Her most recent book, A Tender Hope, is the final book of the Cimarron Creek trilogy.

Find all of Amanda's books, newsletter info and social media links here.


  1. Thank you Amanda! That's the clearest explanation I've seen!

  2. This is a good grammar rule to remember, otherwise it changes the meaning of the sentence, which, as you said, may not be the author's intention. Thanks, Amanda!

  3. This is so helpful, I've found a couple of those suckers in my writing. It makes me cringe. Super post, and as always, it's printed and in my "grammar notebook".
    Thanks for being a part of An Indie Adventure, Amanda.
    Hugs, L.A.

  4. I'm glad you're all finding the post helpful. I have to admit that my copy editor used to find dangling participles in my manuscripts, but once she started pointing them out, I became very aware of them and even more determined to find them before she did. At least, thanks to her, they never made their way to print.

  5. I have to watch all the time that I'm not "dangling" as I write, especially first drafts. Love the post. Cheers

  6. Amanda and Leslie, I have to say I'm guilty of this offense more times than I care to admit. :( However, I'm extremely grateful for the reminder to watch out for these both as I write and in my editing. Thanks for another great article!

  7. Some dangling participle jokes: The burglar was about 30 years old, white, 5' 10", with wavy hair weighing about 150 pounds.

    ~ The family lawyer will read the will tomorrow at the residence of Mr. Hannon, who died June 19 to accommodate his relatives.

    ~ Mrs. Shirley Baxter, who went deer hunting with her husband, is very proud that she was able to shoot a fine buck as well as her husband.

    - Gretchen