Thus begins Teaching Tuesday (geez, I’m so clever, what a snappy title). I decided to make Tuesday a day where I’d devote to some aspect of editing. Aren’t you all excited? Yes, I sense you foaming at the mouth for next Tuesday’s installment already. And no, I’m sorry, no bribes accepted for a sneak peek at next week 😉
On to the dreaded dangling participle. If you’re one of my authors who loves to write with these, you’re most likely sick of seeing comments from me telling you the nice turn of phrase you’ve written is modifying the wrong word and has to be revised. As one of my authors said, “Damn dangly bits.” They sure do sound nice in your head, but in execution, it’s not a great thing when you’ve got the hero holding a swarm of butterflies, lolol.
So how do you know if your participle is dangling? No need to check your fly *badump-bump*, just look for these factors’ presence in your sentence…
**an -ing word. That’s the present participle form. There are a few -ed words (past participle form), but for our purposes (in keeping it simple) we’ll generalize and concentrate on the present form using -ing.
**the -ing word is set off from the rest of the sentence either on its own or in a phrase with a comma (or at least it should have a comma, this is an unreliable test for those of you who don’t use commas correctly, lol)
So if you have those two things, now you need to look for the subject of your sentence. Since a participle is a verb that modifies a noun, a dangling participle is a verb that modifies the wrong noun.
Use as an example the title of this post: Puzzling her with their use, she pondered dangling participles.
The verb is “puzzling” and the subject is “she” so in reality, this sentence is saying that She was puzzling her with their use while she pondered dangling participles.
That’s not the intent of the sentence, the intent was that the dangling participles puzzled her with their use, so the sentence needs to be rewritten to make the dangling participles the subject, not she. So you could have: Puzzled by their use, she pondered dangling participles.
Because authors like the rhythm of starting sentences with phrases using -ing words and participle phrases (verb phrases that modify the subject), dangling participles are common. It’s important for the author to be able to recognize them, because you need to understand what your editor is pointing out.
It seems complicated to learn now, but I have authors who manage to write never having more than one or two mis-modifiend sentences in the entire book. Like anything else, it’s a skill. And if you’re a new author or an aspiring author, getting rid of the “dangly bits” will go a long ways in cleaning up your manuscript so an editor doesn’t look at your book and thing “whoah, that’s going to take a lot of editing.”
Further examples of dangling participles for those still confused (examples are from actual manuscripts):
Being a private investigative firm, she was used to those last minute calls, but tonight she actually had plans.
**Since she is not a private investigative firm, “being a private investigative firm” is left dangling, modifying nothing.
Exhausted, the car sped away as she watched.
**The car isn’t exhausted, she is, so “exhausted” is dangling.
Torn between wanting to watch her peel her dress off or do it himself, impatience won out.
**in this sentence, impatience is the subject, so the phrase “torn between…” has nothing to modify.
And my favorite because it makes me giggle:
Standing in his arms, a million butterflies felt as if they were let loose in her stomach.
**I’m sure it can go unsaid that a million butterflies were not standing in his arms, lolol.