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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.

Then your audience will gasp in dismay and ask for their money back.

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!

We can correct Woodchuck’s other sentences the same way, by adding the intended subject.

  • 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!

 

About Renée LaTulippe

A children's writer and former English/theater teacher, Renee is the editor of the All About Learning Press teaching materials and the co-author of the All About Reading readers. When not writing silly poems or hunting for dangling modifiers, Renee blogs on language and grammar here at AALP, often under the guise of her alter ego, the Chipmunk of Doom.

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  1. So thankful this was pinned – it’s a wonderful lesson to show to my 7th graders! Thank you!

  2. Andrea Jones says:

    This was very helpful. I will definitely remember the the visual. I also like Andrew Pudewa’s explanation…”Be sure the thing after the comma is the thing doing the ‘ing-ing”.

  3. I learned something new and my kids will too :)

  4. I wish you were my English teacher growing up. Then maybe I would have understood these things before now. Thanks for explaining.

  5. Great explanation!

  6. Thanks for this program! We are just about complete with Pre-1 Level and can’t wait to start Level 1!

  7. Em Mitchell says:

    Love it! Great way to teach dangling participles, thanks!

  8. Wow! I just learned something new :-)

  9. This is wonderful- it was a great reminder for me :)

  10. Misty LoudMouth Nealy says:

    Wow, Thank you for helping me realize that I really need to brush up pm grammar. This was a cute article. Thank you for your time and lesson :)

  11. This is a great article, and it made me laugh. I need to brush up on my grammar skills so my son will benefit from what I hope to teach him.

  12. Carrie Gutwein says:

    I feel like I’m so not prepared to teach my kids grammar! When is All About Grammar coming:)!

  13. I was wondering what a dangling participle is. My friend said, “Throw papa down the stairs his hat.” I looked at her funny and started laughing. I guess this isn’t a dangling participle, but this article reminded me of that conversation.

  14. That made perfect sense! I HAVE to try my own dangling participle now: Playing cards at the table, the dishes never got cleaned. :)

  15. Amy O'Connor says:

    Love it! Simple yet engaging – keep them coming!

  16. I love using stories to explain things. This will be be great to use! Thanks

  17. This is Great ! Thanks–Its a great way to learn this with a fun story to go along–A sometimes struggle with the concept.–Again–thanks.

  18. Wow, my children are still young and not yet writing, but this helped me to understand this rule. A funny dangling participle, first attempt: While playing on the AAL site, the pumpkin pie burned. ?!?! DId I do it?

  19. I printed this article for future use! It was a great explanation and I will be using for my 6th grader now and later for my 1st graders as we venture into our wonderful world of English grammar!

  20. Great post! It was very entertaining!

  21. This is such a wonderful way to explain dangling participles! Bravo! And thank you!

  22. This post was very helpful! I remember learning about dangling participles in my college grammar class, but this was a great review. I love the illustrations and examples. Thanks!

  23. This is a nice explanation of a grammar term that I heard mentioned without ever really learning what it meant.

  24. I need help! Did I ever learn this? I have a lot of studying to do… my daughter is 6 and the days for coming. Please don’t judge my grammar!

  25. Hilarious! What a great way to illustrate this concept for children (and adults)! It is so fun to correct misplaced modifiers and dangling participles…thank you for making it easier to teach our kids.

    • Bravo Renee! I found your explanation and illustrations clear as a bell, cheeful and helpful. I was an english major and though I’d be able to correct your incorrect sentences above, I don’t remember learning about dangling particibles. Now I know what I’m fixing! Thank you!

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