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Dingle dangle

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Dangling participles AKA dangling modifiers are considered a crime in some quarters – so much so that, if you make this type of error in your writing, your short story, those sample chapters of your amazing first novel, your competition entry might land in the rejection pile.

Or, the reader might become confused – because you’ll have introduced an ambiguity. Your mistake may make them smile but they also might stop reading.

Regardless of the predispositon of your reader, I advise you to avoid dangling your participles!

Consider this:

  • After sketching the outline, the novel was easy to write.

Who sketched the outline? Who is then going to find it easy to write the novel? Neither ‘subject’ is evident, but this oversight is easily fixed:

  • After sketching the outline, Katie found that the novel was easy to write.

Here, I’m focusing on just one particular culprit: the present participle.

What is a present participle?


  • The present participle is the form of a verb that ends in -ing: to sketch, sketching.
  • This -ing form of the verb can be used to introduce a [subordinate] clause.
  • This subordinate clause provides additional information to the subject in the main clause in your sentence.

Starting a sentence this way can add variety to your writing.

  • Feeling depressed, Fiona decided to take a long walk.
  • Walking through town on Christmas Eve, Marion was amazed at how empty the streets were.

Having the extra information at the start of the sentence emphasises that what follows is as a result of, or happens after, the situation described in the opening few words.

What can go wrong?

Here, the noun to which the partiples applies is the object (instead of the subject) in the main clause.

  • Being shop soiled, Jane bought the curtains at a discount.
    No! Jane is not shop-soiled! The curtains are shop-soiled; hence the discount price.

This time, the noun to which the partiples applies is missing altogether.

  • Travelling north, the weather deteriorated.
    No! The weather is going nowhere; it is the traveller who is travelling north.

Focusing on what is really happening, both examples can be edited to produce unambiguous information:

  • Jane bought the shop-soiled curtains at a discount.
  • Travelling north, Harry noticed how quickly the weather deteriorated.