Monday Classroom: Dangling Participles . . . dang I’ma gonna ‘splain it like this:

DSC_0174In my Monday Classroom Series, I rarely explain “grammar stuff” by explaining it too technically—you know why? Because I cannot be too technical since for me it’s mostly become the instinctual. Oh, I had horrid grammar for many years, and the comma drove me to distraction. But when I became an editor for Rose & Thorn years ago, I learned on the job what it meant to be a better editor. I not only noticed things in the structure and tone and cadence of the story, but also by how grammar was used as a tool either to ignore the rule or to enhance by breaking the rule. In the process, the story shone brighter. It’s all about CONTROL. Know what is right, apply it where necessary, and then break those rules when creativity asks for it: with CONTROL.

Grammar may be one of those things you “get” or one of those things that makes you want to pull out your hair and run screaming into the streets. For me, things began to click when I related them to my writing (or the writer’s story I edited) in a tangible way. What I will try to do here is to explain things in a way with the hope my explanations will make it easier for you to apply the rules, or break them effectively, in your writing, even if you don’t exactly know the whys or deep grammatical explanations.

If you want a more technical explanation, there’s always Grammar Girl

We know what Dangling means; that’s easy. But what in tarnation is a Dangling Participle? A Dangling Participle will have an “ING” word in a phrase that usually precedes a sentence, which modifies the wrong noun/subject.

ING words are sneaky! I often do a “find/search” of my first draft for ING words just to see how I’ve slipped up. First off, many times I find that instead of an ING word, I could/should use ED (or some sister/brother of ED)—go into your manuscript/story and look at some ING words. Now, change ING to ED (and you may or may not need to fiddle-dee-dee with the sentence a bit) and then read it aloud. Huh? Huh? Yeah? See? The more I am instinctually aware, the less I worry I’ll miss something; however, when I do a search, I’m always surprised at what I miss.

Today, let’s look at those ING words as Dangling Participles—dangling ING words in phrases.

Dangling Participles “attach themselves” to the wrong subject, and make the sentence, the scene, sound a bit ridiculous or implausible.


10305604_10152463711914176_2993508658427162551_n Drinking her coffee, Mary told John to stop drumming his fingers on the table.

Now, imagine that scene above—don’t just nod your head about it, really picture that scene as if it’s a movie scene or happening right in front of you:

Mary is drinking her coffee, so how can she talk to John with a mouthful of coffee?

Sure, we all know what the sentence means; but if you picture that scene, it does not work. I could explain things in a “Grammarish” kind of way about modifiers and nouns and who or what is carrying out the action and blah blah blah, but if the whys confuse you, I want you to see the results to strengthen your scene and not necessarily the grammar whys.

And in the case of the Dangling Participle, I am not so much worried about you remembering the Term, but instead remembering that ING word there in the beginning phrase that knocks the scene all wonkity.  And you can do that by imagining the scene you are writing as if it is happening in front of you or in a movie scene—yeah, I stuck lots-o ING words right there in this paragraph, didn’t I? Ha! But they ain’t a-danglin.

So, in my example: Mary can’t talk and drink her coffee at the same time. Something doesn’t jive here. Let Mary finish her gulp of coffee and then she can tell John to stop his drumming before she goes mad mad MAD with it! (For me, it’s whistling – dang if I don’t hate whistling!)

Running to her car, Debbie revved the motor and raced away.

I’m still imagining Debbie in a full-out run to the car, and then whammalammadingdong I have to adjust my thinking. No, wait! She’s in the car and driving away! This scene is awkward.

Because grammar is so AWESOME in this way, sometimes those ING words can work as beginning phrases.

well, sheee'it

well, sheee’it

Standing in the doorway, George was knocked to the floor by a large angry ape.

Do you see the difference? George is standing in the doorway when BA-BAM! A big ole ape slams into him. George is the focus here—George standing in the doorway is the focus. The ape comes out of nowhere and knocks George down. I can see the scene even if it could be rewritten to be more efficient.

I’m being simplistic here, and my examples aren’t meant to be perfect. What I want here is for you to picture the scene and in picturing the scene understand the effect on your manuscript/scene.

Typing her examples, Kathryn hoped everyone would understand.

Works for me! Kathryn is typing her examples with the hope that you all will understand. Is the sentence strong and lovely? I dunno. But I can picture the scene just fine. Kathryn typed examples. Kathryn hoped everyone understood. She did and can do both at the same time. Now if Kathryn did this:

Typing her examples, Kathryn ate her scone.

Nope, I’m typing so it would be hard to eat my delicious cranberry orange scone (dang! Wish I had one right now!). Unless I jammed my face on my plate and ate like a dawg—and I probably have done just that, haw!

There are great beautiful perfect grammatical explanations for all this, and any google of “dangling participles” and “participles” will give you clear instruction (like Grammar Girl link above).

Find a way to internalize the explanations so that they become clear to you in a tangible way. If you can relate something to your own experience, it’s easier to understand. If you can imagine your scenes as if watching a movie or as if it is happening right in front of you, then perhaps applying correct grammar, or breaking the rule, will give you much more control. So think about your scenes in another way, and in the process, gain an understanding of sentence structure and how it can make your work weaker or stronger.

Now, go WRITE!



Touty Plug of the day: I don’t feel like being touty. I will only say that if you want a new book to read, then perhaps consider one of mine. You can pick out all my grammatical mistakes–particularly in the first books–and sneeringly sneerificate at me *laugh!* I have a website and an Amazon Page and my books are available wherever books are sold–and if they aren’t there, then they can be ordered. As always, your support is needed and appreciated and never forgotten. It’s all for you, this crazy writing life: You–dear Readers.