Dangling Participles - The Horror!

We all remember out third-grade teacher who sternly warned us about the horrors of dangling participles.

Recently while reading a book geared toward writers, the author broached the subject of DP’s. Here’s the sentence she gave as an example:

The author says that this is a classic example of a DP, but he doesn’t say why or how. This sentence seems a little awkward, but I’m not seeing in blaring grammatical or usage errors here.

So, what makes a phrase a DP and why is it such a bad thing?

Make that “…any blaring grammatical or usage errors…” :rolleyes:

To use another example:

“Walking back home yesterday, a tree nearly fell on my head.”

If strict logic is applied to that sentence, it should mean that the tree was walking back home: the subject of the main clause of a sentence (here, a tree) is assumed to be the subject of a phrase attached to the main clause – as in

“Being shy, she never said a word.”
But language does not always keep to the tramlines of strict logic, and it is quite common to find attached phrases applying to some other part of the main clause (here, the ‘I’ implied by my head).
Such phrases usually contain participles: they are called dangling participles, or hanging participles, or unattached participles.

In the sentence above, the dangling participle is a present participle walking, but you can also have a dangling past participle: “If properly secured, you shouldn’t be able to remove the cover.”

Dangling participles are not considered acceptable in standard English, so they should be avoided in writing. Recast offending sentences so that the subject of the attached phrase is clear:

“As I was walking back home yesterday a tree nearly fell on my head”; “If the cover is properly secured, you shouldn’t be able to remove it.”

Naughty’s examples are the type usually used to make the point that Dangling Participles can be confusing. “Crawling along a leaf, I saw a beetle” is amusing, but no one thinks it meant that I was crawling on the leaf.

However, the real risk is confusion in less humorous sentences:

“Angered over perceived mistreatment by the company, I interviewed the Vice President.”

Who was angry at the company? Me, or the VP? The placement of participle implies I was the one who was angry. If the author of the sentence meant that the VP was angry, they blew it… and lack of knowledge of participle placement could cause significant reaction.

I was always a little confused about the difference between dangling participles and misplaced modifiers.

According to http://www.englishplus.com/grammar/:

They still sound pretty similar to me!

A lady friend told me some while back, “I saw two whales driving to work.”

That must’ve been some trick since they don’t have hands.

When dangling, you should avoid using participles.

Misplaced modifier category.

Sign in bar in Tokyo: From 4 to 6 PM, free cocktails for ladies with nuts

This sample sentence has the additional abomination of using passive voice. Who saw the squirrels, and why aren’t they telling us? Try:

Oops. Now I’ve done it.

On an unrelated note (maybe I should start a different thread), where did the rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition come from? What is it for? By violating it, who does it do any harm to?

–Grump “prep school” y

It is not a rule of English grammar. I’ve heard that it’s an anachronism from the Latin, but since I don’t know Latin, I don’t know the veracity of that. However, I heard that Latin syntax requires not ending a sentence with a preposition. Dumbest rule I’ve ever heard of.

You are quite right that it is related to Latin grammar. John Dryden, a 17th century poet, decided that English should follow Latin grammar. He was influential enough to convince other people to follow suit, and eventually this “rule” became entrenched with grammar teachers. You’ll still find many people who object to ending a sentence with a preposition, but this is from having this “rule” constantly pounded into us. I sometimes will restructure a sentence to avoid the problem even though I know there is nothing with it.

Make that “…there is nothing wrong with it.”

“Mrs Marion Bloom has left off clothes of all descriptions”

Latin has no problem with using a preposition to end a sentence with. In fact, any word order acceptable in a sentence is, although some more common than others are. The only complication is that many ideas expressed in English with a preposition are expressed as an inflected form in Latin, and these “built-in” prepositions obviously can’t be moved around. For instance, the sentence “I give the book to the poet” translates to “Libram poetae dono”: “Libram” is “the book” (in the accusitive case, indicating that it’s the object of my action), “dono” is “I give” (you could also say “ego dona”, and make the pronoun explicit, but that’s unnecessary), and “poetae” is the dative case of “poeta”, poet, meaning (in this context) “to the poet”. Note also that I could have stated that as “Dono poetae libram”, or any of the other four permutations of those words, and carried essentially the same meaning.

My Dad used to collect these. There’s always the classic:

“Please list employees broken down by sex.”

But his favorite was:

“Huge amounts of literature have amassed on the cell walls of e. coli.”

As regards sentence-ending prepositions, I once heard that Winston Churchill, upon being chided for such usage, responded: “This is something up with which I shall not put.”


My understanding that the rule about dangling prepositions, as well as that about split infinitives, came specifically from a short treatise written in 1762 by an English bishop named Robert Lowth. This was later plagiarized by Lindley Murray in a book titled English Grammar in 1794. Republished numerous times, it became a major influence on the English teachers who attempted to pound these “rules” into the heads of their unfortunate victims, er … students.

This is not to say that Dryden didn’t advocate basing English grammar on that of Latin. But I don’t think he was responsible for these particular rules.

And then there’s the joke about the absurdity of worrying excessively about ending sentences with prepositions…

A freshman at Princeton was lost on campus on his first day there. He approached an upperclassman and asked him, “Hey man, do you know where the library is at?”
The upperclassman scowled, then replied, “My good fellow, at Princeton we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
The freshman considered this, then asked, “Okay, can you tell me where the library is at, A**hole?”

But seriously: the dangling participles and modifiers are more of a problem than the prepositions are, in this English teacher’s humble opinion.

Setting: the child is upstairs, ready for bed. The father is downstairs, and coming up to read a bedtime story to the child. The father asks whether the child wants the red story book or the green story book. The child asks for the red story book and says emphatically NOT the green. The father nonetheless comes upstairs with the green story book (the one not desired by the child) and so the child says to the father:


“What did you bring that book that I did not want to be read to out of up for?”

Wow, CK, that’s great! I like the nesting: what — for; bring — up; read to — out of.