Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Write Right Part Three: Dangerous Dangling Participles



It’s a simple fact: no one likes to be left hanging; this includes the subject, nouns, adjectives, etc. Oftentimes, people make the mistake of replacing the subject altogether by using a dangling participle. By doing this, we often give inordinate action to objects that prove to be very awkward. Consider the following sentence.

Driving down the highway, the buildings jumped out at us.

If you were driving down the highway and buildings were jumping out at you, in addition to a messy pile-up, it’s highly likely that you would not survive to write a sentence about it, LOL. This is called a dangling participle, because the participle is left standing alone without a clear antecedent. Dictionary.com defines an antecedent as “a word, phrase, or clause, usually a substantive, that is replaced by a pronoun or other substitute later, or occasionally earlier, in the same or in another, usually subsequent, sentence.” A more appropriate way to phrase the previous example would be as follows:

As we drove down the highway, the buildings appeared to be jumping out at us.

Dangling participles can lead to huge misunderstandings in your writing. It also distracts from the central idea and shifts the focus to vague, insignificant concepts. The last thing you want to do is have the focus shifted away from the message you are trying to convey. Personally, I think that dangling participles become a more pressing problem when people use more compound sentences. Let’s look at another example.

Eating the pizza, the jalapeños triggered a fire in my mouth.

Notice in this sentence, the dangling participle modifies the wrong noun. It is unsafe to assume that your readers will be able to bridge your implication with the subject. The optimal thing to do would be to latch the participle onto something so the sentence will make sense. Remember, the goal is to write as clear as possible–avoiding ambiguity at all costs. A more acceptable version of this would read as follows:

The jalapeños seemed to trigger a fire in my mouth as I ate the pizza.

Stay tuned as we follow up with another writing tip guaranteed to take your writing to the next level. Remember, our goal is not only to provide you with writing services, but we seek to help as many as possible become great writers. Writing doesn’t have to be viewed as some ominous task that only an elite few are able to do successfully. There is a writer inside of you dying to get out, and we are committed to helping you discover and rescue that writer!

9 comments:

  1. Man, I need to go back to school; I forgot all about dangling participles.

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  2. Great info! Any tips on how to spot them dangly suckers?

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  3. Very helpful advice. Thanks for the lesson.

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  4. I may need you to edit my next book. Now, when you read my blogs don't tear them apart.

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  5. @ J, Look for phrases before a comma. That's often where those little critters like to reside. Thanks for reading everyone. You are GREATLY appreciated! :-)

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  6. Very helpful information! Great examples! We tend to write like we speak in our daily vernacular and these type of helpful reminders are just what we need.

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