Tag Archive - Participial Phrases

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.

A Simple, Fun Lesson about Participial Phrases

Now, don’t get all hot and bothered by the expression “participial phrase.” Something that is participial has to do with the part of speech that is a participle. What’s a participle? Well, it’s complicated. Let’s just say it reminds me of a photon—which can be both a particle and a wave. In similar fashion, a participle can be a verb and an adjective. How? By forming a phrase with a verb, you create a kind of adjective that modifies (affects, alters, describes) a noun.

Okay, enough with the grammar lesson. It will make more sense once you read on.

One telltale sign of an inexperienced writer is the overuse of participial phrases to begin a sentence. Participial phrases are easily identified because they almost always begin with a verb that ends in ing or ed. If the participle is present tense, it will dependably end in ing. Likewise, a regular past participle will end in a consistent ed. Irregular past participles, unfortunately, conclude in all kinds of ways. Continue Reading…