Dangling participles

Participles of verbs are often used to introduce subordinate clauses, which give extra information about the main part of a sentence (known as the main clause). It’s important to use participles in subordinate clauses correctly. The participle should always describe an action performed by the subject of the main part of the sentence. For example:

Mrs Stevens, opening the door quietly, came into the room.
[subject] [participle]  

 

In this sentence, the present participle (opening) in the subordinate clause refers to the subject of the main clause. Mrs Stevens is both opening the door and coming into the room.

Sometimes writers forget this rule and begin a sentence with a participle that doesn’t refer to the subject of their sentence. They then end up with what’s known as a dangling participle, as in this grammatically incorrect statement:

Travelling to Finland, the weather got colder and colder.
[participle] [subject]

 

Strictly speaking, this sentence means that it is ‘the weather’ that is ‘travelling to Finland’, which obviously isn’t what the writer was intending to say. The sentence needs to be reworded to make the meaning clear and to make it grammatically correct, e.g.:

As I was travelling to Finland, the weather got colder and colder.

or:

Travelling to Finland, I found that the weather got colder and colder.

 

You can read more dangling participles on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Here you will find useful tips on spotting dangling participles and avoiding them when writing.

 

Back to grammar tips.

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