What is a Participle and why is mine Dangling? | Author: Laurie Dart

Have you ever read something that made you stop and say to yourself, “what the heck does that mean?” I know I have and usually it’s because someone has destroyed an otherwise coherent sentence with a dangling participle or a misplaced modifier.

The majority of small business owners rely on the written word to convey their message, communicate their services and attract their customers. If that writing is not clear, concise and comprehendible you could be losing customers and money!

A participle (or modifier) is a word or phrase that alters a clause usually in a confusing manner, because it could apply to either the subject or the object of the clause.

Here’s an example: We picked Tricia up from the store and we fed her puppies.

The phrase “we fed her puppies” is a dangling participle. It is not clear to the reader if we fed Tricia’s puppies or if we fed Tricia to the puppies – big difference!

Here’s another example: I have some pound cake Heather baked in my lunch bag.

The phrase “Heather baked in my lunch bag” is the dangling participle in this case. It is not clear to the reader whether I have pound cake that Heather baked in my lunch bag or Heather baked the pound cake in my lunch bag. Again, the sentence takes on a totally different meaning when the modifier is misplaced.

One last example: Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.

Being in a dilapidated condition seems to modify “I” instead of “the house”. We can assume the writer meant that they got a good deal because the house was falling apart but we can’t be sure.

See how easy it is to change the meaning of a sentence just by moving a few words around! You may not intend to, but when you misplace modifiers or dangle participles, you’re doing just that.

Small business owners can’t afford these kinds of mistakes. All written communication must be clear and free of assumptions. This includes Web site copy, brochures, and letters – anything your company distributes to current or potential clients needs to be perfect. Write as though you’re speaking with someone one-on-one, read what you’ve written aloud and ask someone else to read it too. Sometimes we are too close to the material and don’t see errors or misplaced modifiers. Reading the piece aloud will reveal the errors. Often times we are only allowed one opportunity to impress potential clients – make sure your writing reflects highly on your business and you’ll be writing wisely.

About the Author:

Laurie Dart, author and owner of Writing Wisely, is the author of The Everyday Guide to Writing Wisely. She provides writing and editing services to entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to make a lasting impression with their target market. To learn how to improve your writing, visit the Web site for more information: http://www.writingwisely.com.