Copy Editor’s Corner | The dangers of dangling participles
When’s the last time someone scrawled “dangling participle” next to something you’ve written? It was likely in a high school or college English course – but that doesn’t mean you haven’t committed this grammatical offense lately. Most of us have. Learning what a dangling participle is – and how to fix one — may seem as old-fashioned and useless as diagramming sentences, but it’s actually very simple.
A dangling participle, or, as it’s sometimes called, a dangling modifier, modifies the wrong noun. Consider the following example:
Driving along the parkway, a squirrel darted out in front of my car.
At first glance it seems that it might be an okay sentence. But squirrels can’t drive. It doesn’t take much to correct the grammar:
Driving along the parkway, I suddenly had to swerve to avoid a squirrel.
As I was driving along the parkway, a squirrel darted out in front of my car.
While a copy editor reviewing your writing may not note your error as a dangling participle, if you see rephrasing like this you can rest assured your sentence is the better for it.
Let’s finish off with a fun example, this Groucho Marx quote:
One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.