Dangling Participles

monday dangling

Most regular readers of my blog know how much I love injecting humor into lessons. The old adage of a spoonful of sugar is really true!

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down!

And humor is everywhere if you know how to see it — even in writing. Some of it is unintentional, though; someone writes way too fast or believes spellcheck does more than it can. Often, of course, writers simply knew what they meant and failed to proofread.

Dangling constructions, those phrases that are often missing an essential word or two, are the darlings of newspaper editors, grammar teachers, and lovers of the absurd everywhere. While they’re seldom written to cause laughter, the end result is often humorous.

Dangling participles are so named due to their lack of connection with what follows.

A participle is a form of a verb. English has two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Present participles are easy to identify: they end in ” ing.” Past participles of regular verbs end in ” d” or “ed,” while those of irregular verbs may end in ” t” or ” en,” or they may take a completely different form.

Here are some examples of participial phrases gone awry because the word(s) after the comma should refer back to the participle, but logically don’t. I have also written two “better” sentences for each based on the same information.

  • Locked away in a closet for ten years, Aunt Sarah finally found the pictures!
    (Didn’t anyone miss Aunt Sarah for all those years?)
    Better: Aunt Sarah finally found the pictures, which had been locked away in a closet for ten years.
    Better: Locked away in a closet for ten years were pictures Aunt Sarah finally found!
  • Sitting on the ledge, Jane noticed the pigeons’ nest.
    (Was Jane really on the ledge? Doubtful.)
    Better:  Jane noticed the pigeons’ nest, which was sitting on the ledge.
    Better:  Sitting on the ledge was a pigeons’ nest that Jane noticed.
  • Posted on the wall, Sharon went to make more copies of the flier.
    (Was Sharon really posted on the wall?)
    Better:  Sharon posted the last flier on the wall, then went to make more copies.
    Better:  Posted on the wall was the last flier Sharon had before she made more copies.
  • Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we viewed Angel Falls.
    (Did we really plunge hundreds of feet down?)
    Better:  We viewed Angel Falls, which was plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge.
    Better:  Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, Angel Falls thrilled all the viewers.
  • After being whipped for a few minutes, the cook folded the egg whites into the mixture.
    (What was really being whipped? The cook or the egg whites?)
    Better:  After the cook whipped the egg whites for a few minutes, he . . .
    Better:  After being whipped for a few minutes, the egg whites were folded into the mixture.
  • Having come out of the coma, the policeman asked the patient what had caused the accident.
    (Who was in the coma — the police officer or the patient?)
    Better:  After the patient came out of the coma, the policeman asked . . .
    Better:  Having come out of the coma, the patient talked with the policeman about the accident.
  • Answering the phone,  the cat ran out the open door.
    (Does YOUR cat answer the phone?)
    Better:  As I was answering the phone, the cat ran out the open door.
    Better:  As John was answering . . . .


What have YOU seen that caused you to laugh? What words or constructions got your attention for all the wrong reasons? Please share your comments, thoughts, and/or examples with us!