Misplaced Participial Phrases

May 22, 2021

A participle or participial phrase generally follows the noun or pronoun it modifies. Nonessential phrases can sometimes come before the noun. Phrases before nouns are set off with commas.

Kevin, playing with his new puppy, did not finish his homework.
Playing with his new puppy, Kevin did not finish his homework.

Justin, working on his homework, made good use of his time.
Working on his homework, Justin made good use of his time.

Moving the phrase can change which word the phrase is modifying.

Justin made good use of his time working on his homework.
(Now the phrase is modifying time.)

Definition: A participial phrase is misplaced if it seems to modify a word other than the one the writer intended to modify. It is often added to a sentence as an afterthought. The idea was clear in the author’s mind, but it didn’t translate to the reader.

Misplaced: We got on the bus, soaked from the rain. (Was the bus soaked?)
Better: Soaked from the rain, we got on the bus.

Definition: A participial phrase is dangling if it modifies a word that is not in the sentence at all.Dangling:

Sitting in the back row, the board was hard to see. (The board wasn’t sitting in the back row.)
Mowing the lawn, grass clippings got all over my face. (The grass clippings weren’t mowing the lawn.)

Corrected:

Sitting in the back row, I couldn’t see the board well.
Mowing the lawn, I got grass clippings all over my face.


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