Don’t leave your participles hanging

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I heard a new accusation about Hoosiers recently: Apparently, we love our dangling participles. Furthermore, it’s been alleged that our grammatical dalliances are infecting the rest of the country.

The nerve of the accusation, right?

While I’m confident my participles are firmly fixed and double-bolted to the correct nouns, I thought the subject of dangling participles was worth an article.

We’ve talked about participles before – a verb form which modifies nouns or noun phrases – so I won’t go into too much background on them. Since the present participle of a verb always ends in “-ing,” and the past tense can have a variety of endings, we’ll focus on present participles. The rules are the same.

When used correctly, a participle or participle phrase acts as an adjective. For example: “Flipping through the magazine, I found an interesting article.” The participle phrase tells us what the speaker was doing when he or she found the article.

When used incorrectly, participle phrases can create confusion, humorous or otherwise. In this case, they are said to be “dangling,” as it is unclear what noun they are intended to modify. Here’s an example: “Jumping over the fence, the cow looked at me strangely.” While it’s not unthinkable that the narrator is describing an acrobatic cow, it’s more likely that he was talking about himself. However, the dangling participle makes this unclear. A more effective way of writing this sentence would be: “Jumping over the fence, I received a strange look from a cow.”

Dangling participles can appear anywhere in a sentence. When they do, they’re typically caused by a lack of attention to detail. The fix is simple: Move the participle so that confusion is alleviated. Often this can be accomplished by placing the participle as close as possible to its intended noun. Do this, and your participles should be dangle-free.

Oh, and watch out for jumping cows. They’re a menace.

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