“When writing, your participle might dangle.”
Here’s a biggie. Many highly educated people write sentences with dangling participles in them. Careful and knowledgeable readers—as in your boss or professor—know all about danglers and avoid them like the plague.
Dangling Participles - An Overview
At first, I wanted to name the Oops Me book Does Your Participle Dangle? Alas, my publisher and my wife nixed that incredibly clever idea.
Why focus on the problem of the dangling participle?
Conversations at Cocktail Parties
Whenever I go to a cocktail party, I’ll go get my soda water and lime (yeah, right), and then mill around, trying to engage in some conversation. After the traditional HeyHowYew (I’m from the South) and the inevitable games of DoYaKnow, the conversation inexorably turns to “Say, Ed, what do you do for a living?”
I never know how to answer. If I say, “I’m a lawyer,” then that’ll invite all those knee-slapping jokes about skunks and lawyers and the relative lengths of skid marks.
But I can’t say I’m a lawyer, because I don’t do traditional lawyering. Instead, I teach lawyers how to improve their writing. So when I say, “I teach lawyers how to write,” that inevitably brings howls of laughter and the rejoinder, “Well, it ain’t working, is it?”
So you teach people how to write …
And then, as surely as crab grass takes over my lawn in summer, the conversation goes something like this:
“So you teach people how to write. Well, I’ve always prided myself on my writing. I mean, I know all about dangling participles and all that.”
For some reason, when the topic of writing comes up, people always want to say they know all about dangling participles, as if writing correctly without dangling participles forever marks someone as thoroughly knowledgeable in the art of writing.
Of course, I then proceed to ask my conversationalist to give me an example or two and to distinguish between present and past participles. At that point the conversation tends to break down, and I go looking for another soda and lime.
It would be nice if everyone knew about dangling participles, for they rank as the second most frequently occurring grammatical mistake—right behind subject-verb disagreements.
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Next: Introductory Adjectival Phrases
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