Tag Archive - dangling participles

The Danger of Starting Sentences with Participial Phrases

What’s so dangerous about . . . whatever those things are? What is a participle? It’s a verb or a noun that gets turned into an adjective. Participles can be in the present tense or the past tense, and the present participle always ends with “ing.” For example, “sing” is a verb, and “singing” is its present participle.

Here are some examples of sentence openings with participles:

  • Floating downstream . . .
  • Beating me at cards . . .
  • Turning the doorknob . . .

There is nothing wrong with beginning sentences with these phrases, but watch what happens when close attention isn’t being paid to the subject of the phrase:

  • Floating downstream, the day seemed so peaceful.
  • Beating me at cards, my fun evening with my friends cost me my week’s wages.
  • Turning the doorknob, the noises in the creepy room scared me.

You’d have a strange story with days that float down streams, evenings that can play cards, and noises that can turn doorknobs. These erroneous constructions are called “dangling participles”—because a phrase ends up hanging all by its lonesome without a proper subject to support it.

Solution: Do a search through your document for ing and examine all sentences that begin with a participial phrase. If any are dangling, grab the correct noun and put it in place to support the phrase.

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.