The other morning, the Chipmunk of Doom was sitting in his tree and darning socks when a shocking scene unfolded right before his eyes.
A bird on a pogo stick jumped by, singing a jaunty tune.
Dandelions ate pancakes with acorn syrup.
The sun strolled along the path, waving at flowers and scorching Mr. Doom’s toe fur.
“What in tarnation is going on around here?” thought Mr. Doom as he fanned his toes. Just when he thought the world had turned upside down, he saw Woodchuck wander by chewing on a pencil. Woodchuck liked to write short stories and often read them aloud as he worked out his plots.
Mr. Doom listened:
“Jumping home on my pogo stick, a bird sang a jaunty tune,” read Woodchuck. “The next day, eating pancakes with acorn syrup, the dandelions saluted the sun. Strolling along the path, the sun waved back at them.”
Now the Chipmunk of Doom understood the problem. “Oh, Woodchuck,” he called out. “I’m afraid your dangling participles are disrupting my morning chores. Would you mind un-dangling them and getting that bird off the pogo stick?”
But Woodchuck just stared at him blankly. “I’m sorry, but what’s a participle and how do I know if it’s dangling?”
Mr. Doom sighed and started at the beginning…
1. What is a participle?
A participle is a verbal (a form of a verb) that is used as an adjective. Present participles end in -ing, and past participles end in -ed or -en.
- rolling pin
- swimming goggles
- exhausted chipmunk
- broken toy
The participles describe what kind of pin, goggles, chipmunk, and toy.
2. What is a participial phrase?
A participial phrase is a group of words that contains a present or past participle and modifies (describes) the subject of the sentence. We will only look at phrases with present participles.
- Rolling down the hill, Agatha got dizzy.
- Swimming in the creek, Bertie Beaver felt at peace with the world.
In these sentences, the participial phrase is in italics and the subject is underlined. See how the participial phrase describes the subject?
You might have noticed two other things, too:
- The subject comes right after the participial phrase that modifies it.
- The participial phrase is followed by a comma.
3. What is a dangling participle?
Sometimes writers, like Woodchuck, forget to put the intended subject in the sentence, and that’s when the trouble begins. Remember the bird on the pogo stick?
Jumping home on my pogo stick, a bird sang a jaunty tune.
The intended subject is “I,” but Woodchuck didn’t include it in the sentence. Instead, he put a random bird there, so this sentence says that the bird is jumping on the pogo stick. Do you think he asked to borrow it first?
Think of the participial phrase and the subject of the sentence as a trapeze act.
If the participial phrase has no proper subject to catch it, it will be left dangling there, staring at a random bird.
The participial phrase and the subject have to work together to wow the audience. Let’s help out the phrase by correcting Woodchuck’s sentence. To do that, we need to add the intended subject:
Jumping home on my pogo stick, I heard a bird sing a jaunty tune.
Now the participial phrase modifies the subject I, and the sentence makes sense. The participial phrase has reached over the comma to grab onto the subject. Listen to the applause and take a bow!
- INCORRECT: Eating pancakes with acorn syrup, the dandelions saluted the sun.
- CORRECT: Eating pancakes with acorn syrup, I watched the dandelions salute the sun.
- INCORRECT: Strolling along the path, the sun waved back at them.
- CORRECT: Strolling along the path, I saw the sun wave back at them.
Let’s try one that’s a bit trickier.
Running on the treadmill, Mr. Doom’s socks crept into his sneakers.
Why is this trickier? Because the intended subject is Mr. Doom, and those words do appear in the sentence. If you look closely, however, you’ll see that the full subject of this sentence as it is written is Mr. Doom’s socks, not Mr. Doom…which means that the socks are running on the treadmill without Mr. Doom’s paws inside them!
The participial phrase is just dangling there on its trapeze with no proper subject to grab onto. Let’s un-dangle it:
Running on the treadmill, Mr. Doom felt his socks creep into his sneakers.
And there you have it! Fixing dangling participles is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. All you have to do is put the participial phrase on one trapeze and the intended subject on the other, and then make them meet over the comma.
If you don’t, your socks may take on a life of their own.
Do dangling participles ever give your young writers problems? Feel free to share a sentence with a funny dangling participle!