Don’t Dangle

I see a lot of dangling participles. Okay, you are probably wondering just what the darn things are (so you can avoid them)! Here are some examples.

• While writing the memo, the phone rang [the phone is writing the memo]

• Having been told she was always late, an alarm clock was the solution [the clock was told it was late, and it’s a girl clock!]

• Upon opening the door, the handle was stuck [the handle is opening the door]

• When writing a sentence, the pen slipped. [the pen is writing the sentence]

• While racing up the hill, my tears gushed out [the tears are racing up the hill]

• Driving down the street, the mansion came into view [the mansion is driving]

 

So, always be sure to match the initial action taking place with the correct subject:

• While I was writing the memo, the phone rang, or

• While writing the memo, I heard the phone ring.

These may be a bit tricky to spot, but be alert to when you start the sentence with a dependent phrase (incomplete) using a gerund (a word with ing). I prefer in my own writing to rewrite the sentence so that I don’t start with an incomplete phrase. I feel writing comes across cleaner that way.

5 Responses to “Don’t Dangle”

  1. Miranda May 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Thanks Susan. I’ll have to admit, at first I didn’t get it (the phone is writing the memo). You’re so right! It is difficult to spot. Will definitely look out for it in my writing. I hope i don’t have to tear my manuscripts apart. lol!

    • cslakin May 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      These dang danglers are hard to catch, even for us editors. What I look for is the comma following a dependent phrase. Many people start sentences “backwards”–For example, instead of saying “I walked to the door when I heard the doorbell rang” I’ll often see “When the doorbell rang, I walked to the door” which is perfectly fine. But what many end up doing is putting the object where the subject goes after the comma: When walking to the door, the doorbell made a loud chime.” Meaning the doorbell was walking to the door (when the author meant “while she was walking to the door…”) I’ll be going into misplaced modifiers too, since they are similar–not clear who or what is doing the action in a sentence, but with a little rearranging, it is clear.

  2. Miranda May 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Thanks Susan. I’ll have to admit, at first I didn’t get it (the phone is writing the memo). You’re so right! It is difficult to spot. Will definitely look out for it. I hope I don’t have to tear my manuscripts apart. lol
    Great post.

  3. london events May 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this article!
    It is the little changes that produce the biggest changes.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  4. Khaalidah May 21, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    I know I’m silly but this post was as funny as it was helpful and I’d bet we’ve all made these types of errors before. We see/know/understand what we intend but precision is what will make our words understandable to everyone else. Thanks for this post.

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