Monday, July 31, 2006

Creative Writing: Mind Your Grammar

One of my oldest pet peeves is the dangling participle. Such a pet peeve, in fact, that I made fun of them in a series of cartoons I drew in grade school...yes, I'm a grammar geek.

The problem is, many writers today don't even know what a participle is, let alone what happens when it's left dangling. Well, I've dug into Pamela Beers' writing again, and found she has an excellent explanation of the problem--and the cure.

Pardon Me, Your Participle Is Dangling
By Pamela Beers

I had a dream about dangling participles last night; probably because I had a bowl of chocolate-chip, fudge brownie, chocolate ice cream followed by a second bowl of hand picked sweet cherries, before I went to bed. Instead of sugarplums dancing in my head, there were dangling participles hovering over the bedpost. It sounds kind of kinky doesn't it?

What is a participle? It is a word ending in "ing" and sometimes "ed". It looks like a verb but acts as an adjective. A participle is used to describe other words in a sentence.

Dangling participles are writing faux pas. They are often humorous without intending to be, but can be both confusing and annoying when trying to convey a message. In order to avoid dangling participles in your writing, be specific. Avoid generalizations. Two examples of generalizations are "there is", and "it".

Make sure you include a noun or verb in the sentence for the participle to clearly modify. A modifier is a word or group of words that describe other words in a sentence.

Whew! Let's see now, dangling participles, verbs, adjectives, modifiers, there's a lot to think about. Let's have fun with dangling participles and their sometimes humorous, but confusing messages.

1.Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided. (Is the dangling participle writing carefully?)

Correct: Avoid dangling participles while you are writing.

2. Flitting from flower to flower, the baseball player watched the bee. (I don't think the baseball player is flitting from flower to flower, but you never know.)

Correct: The baseball player watched the bee flitting from flower to flower.

3. After being cracked open, the cook boiled the egg. (Oh, oh violence in the kitchen! I hope the cook wasn't cracked open before the egg was boiled.)

Correct: The cook boiled the egg after it was cracked open.

4. Leaping off the cliff, I saw the mountain goat land safely 20 feet below me. (Look out below; the goat and I are on our way down!)

Correct: Leaping off the cliff, the mountain goat landed safely 20 feet below me.

So, folks, a dangling participle is not some kinky physical problem. It is a grammar problem. When writing, make your communication clear.

ALWAYS remember never to eat chocolate-chip, fudge brownie, chocolate ice cream followed by sweet cherries, before going to bed. I sometimes have a problem with dangling participles, but today I have a stomachache.

Copyright © 2006 by Pamela Beers. All rights reserved.

Pamela Beers is a freelance writier, and educator. Visit her website at for writing and marketing tips.

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Anonymous said...

Ms. Beers may know a little something about dangling participles, but she doesn't know squat about puntutation.

andy d said...

Ms. Beers does have some issues with punctuation, but she still has good information about dangling participles...and I'm almost certain she knows how to spell "punctuation"!