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What Is a Dangling Participle? | Examples & Definition

Verbs updated on  February 5, 2024 4 min read

A dangling participle occurs when an introductory participial phrase is followed by a different noun than the one it describes. The correct noun could be misplaced or missing from the sentence.

Dangling participle examples

Swimming in the tank, the cat watched the tropical fish. [implies the cat is swimming in the tank]

Hanging out the laundry, the bedsheet fell in a muddy puddle. [implies the bedsheet is hanging out the laundry]

What is a dangling participle?

To understand dangling participles, it’s helpful to know about participles and participial phrases.

Participles

Participles are forms of verbs and are used to express tense or voice. You can also use participles as adjectives.

Past participles (e.g., “called,” “walked”) are used in perfect tenses and the passive voice. Present participles (e.g., “calling,” “walking”) are used in the continuous tenses. Both past and present participles can act as adjectives.

Participle examples
She had researched the topic extensively.
The broken glass covered the floor.
Hilda was reading an interesting book.

Note
The past participle form of regular verbs ends in “-ed” and looks the same as the simple past form, which is used in the simple past tense.

The past participle forms of irregular verbs, however, have many endings and can be (but aren’t always) different to the simple past form. Download our irregular verbs list to find the past participle forms of common irregular verbs.

Participial phrases

A participial phrase (aka participle phrase) is when a participle forms part of a phrase that describes a noun (i.e., it acts as an adjective). It often includes a prepositional phrase, noun, or adverb.

Participial phrase examples
Walking in the park, Gerome watched the ducks in the pond.
Diane accidentally broke the picture frame bought by her brother.

Dangling participles

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence should modify the subject, which should directly follow the participial phrase.

When the noun being modified by a participial phrase is missing from the sentence or is in the wrong place, it creates a grammatical error called a dangling participle. Dangling participles can result in confusing or absurd sentences.

To fix a dangling participle, you can insert the correct noun directly after the comma, move the participial phrase elsewhere in the sentence, or combine the noun with the participial phrase. Some rewriting may be necessary to make the sentence make sense.

Examples
Driving around the corner, the sun shone into Katerina’s eyes. [this sounds like the sun is driving around the corner].
Driving around the corner, Katerina was blinded by the sun.

Stored on a high shelf, the children longed to eat the box of chocolates. [this sounds like the children are stored on a high shelf]
The children longed to eat the box of chocolates that was stored on a high shelf.

Walking home, my phone ran out of battery. [this sounds like the phone is walking home]
As I was walking home, my phone ran out of battery.

Note
A participial phrase does not need a clearly identified subject in imperative sentences, which have the implied subject “you.” For example, “using soap and water, [you] wash your hands thoroughly.”

Dangling participles vs dangling modifiers

A dangling modifier is a general term for a modifying phrase that doesn’t have a clearly identified subject. A dangling participle is a type of dangling modifier that involves a participial phrase, but other introductory phrases, including adjectives and infinitive phrases, can also be dangling modifiers.

Examples: Dangling participles vs dangling modifiers

Running the marathon, the pigeon flew into him. [implies the pigeon is running the marathon]

Upset and confused, the dinner was a disaster. [doesn’t tell us who is upset and confused]

The best in her class, the teacher always praised Sumaya for her excellent work. [implies the teacher is the best in the class]

Dangling participles vs misplaced modifiers

Misplaced modifiers are modifiers (including participial phrases) that seem to describe the wrong noun because of where they are placed in the sentence. Often, they are separated from the word they describe. Even when a modifier is next to the noun it describes, it can appear to describe a different noun, making the sentence unclear.

Dangling participles and dangling modifiers are both types of misplaced modifiers, but modifiers can also be misplaced in other ways.

Examples: Dangling participles vs misplaced modifiers
Writing his novel, Lochlan’s ideas were running out. [his ideas are not writing the novel; he is]
Writing his novel, Lochlan was running out of ideas.

The blue man’s sweater was too small for him. [is the man blue?]
The man’s blue sweater was too small for him.

Nina decided she would call him while eating dinner. [did she decide while eating dinner or will she call while eating dinner?]
While eating dinner, Nina decided she would call him.
Nina decided that while she was eating dinner, she would call him.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Rhetoric

Commonly confused words

Fallacies

Symbolism

Possum vs opossum

Straw man fallacy

Play on words

Weather vs whether

Post hoc fallacy

Juxtaposition

Inter vs intra

Fallacy of composition

Paronomasia

To vs too

Tu quoque fallacy

Allusion

Subjective vs objective

Either-or fallacy


Frequently asked questions about dangling participle

What is an example of a dangling participle?

An example of a dangling participle is “running at great speed, the dog’s nose started twitching.”

This includes a participial phrase, “running at great speed,” that seems to describe the wrong noun. Although it should describe the dog, the noun that follows the phrase is “the dog’s nose,” making it sound like the nose is running instead of the dog. A better way to phrase this sentence is “as the dog was running at great speed, its nose started twitching.”

Are dangling participles bad?

Dangling participles are grammatical errors that can result in confusing or absurd sentences and should be avoided. They involve participial phrases that seem to describe the wrong noun. For example, “jumping for joy, the song delighted the young girl.” Although the girl is the one who is jumping for joy, the sentence makes it sound like the song is performing this action.

Instead, you could write, “jumping for joy, the young girl was delighted by the song” or “the song delighted the young girl, who was jumping for joy.”

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Sophie Shores

Sophie has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Publishing, and a passion for great writing. She’s taught English overseas and has experience editing both business and academic writing.

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