What Is a Participle?
Before we talk about what it means to dangle a participle, we have to answer the question What is a participle?
It’s a tough question because participles have a few different jobs. Today, we’re only going to talk about their job that makes them look like adjectives. They tell you more about the noun that follows.
Participles can be in the present tense or the past tense, and the present participle always ends with “ing.” For example, “dream” is a verb, and “dreaming” is its present participle. “Speed” is a verb, and “speeding” is its present participle. To use the verb, you could say, “He will speed on the freeway.” “Speed” is an action, a verb.
To use “speeding” as an adjective-like participle, you could say, “Follow that speeding car.” “Speeding” acts something like an adjective modifying the noun “car.” It tells you what the car is doing—what kind of car it is—a speeding car.
Here’s another example: “hike” is a verb, and “hiking” is the present participle. To use the verb, you could say “Let’s hike the trail.” To use the participle, you could say, “Wait for the hiking campers to get back.” “Hiking,” the participle, tells you what the campers are doing—what kind of campers they are—hiking campers.
Participles have another role too: They help form the perfect and progressive verb tenses, but we won’t talk about those here. (See this article for information on verb tenses.)
What Is a Participial Phrase?
So now I trust that you understand how to use verbs and their participles, but to understand dangling participles, we need to talk about participial phrases. These are just phrases that contain a participle and modify the subject of the sentence.
They can include words besides the participle, such as prepositions, pronouns, and nouns, but for now, we’ll just focus on the idea that they contain a participle like “speeding” or “hiking.” The way they modify the subject isn’t as straightforward as a single adjective modifying a single noun, but the participial phrase is still modifying a noun or noun phrase—the subject.
Here are some examples to help make it more clear:
Floating in the pool, I marveled at the clouds….