Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: danglers (1).

danglers (1). So-called danglers are ordinarily unattached participles — either present participles (ending in “-ing”) or past participles (ending usually in “-ed”) — that do not relate syntactically to the nouns they are supposed to modify. That is, when the antecedent of a participle doesn’t appear where it logically should, the participle is said to “dangle” — e.g.: “Watching from the ground below, the birds flew ever higher until they disappeared.” In effect, the participle tries to sever its relationship with its noun or pronoun and thus to become functionally a preposition. Gerunds may also dangle precariously — e.g.: “By watching closely, the birds became visible.” Usually, recasting the sentence will remedy the ambiguity, illogic, or incoherence: “Watching from the ground below, we saw the birds fly higher until they disappeared.”/ “By watching closely, we were able to see the birds.” Most danglers are ungrammatical. In the normal word order, a participial phrase beginning a sentence (“Walking down the street,”) should be directly followed by the noun acting as subject in the main clause (“I saw the house”). When that word order is changed, as by changing the verb in the main clause to the passive voice, the sentence becomes illogical or misleading: “Walking down the street, the house was seen.” It was not the house that was walking, but the speaker. Some danglers, though, are acceptable because of long-standing usage. Examples are easy to come by: “Considering the current atmosphere in the legislature, the bill probably won’t pass.” But avoiding the dangler would often improve the style: “With the current atmosphere in the legislature, the bill probably won’t pass.” Next: the ubiquity of danglers. For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. ————————- Quotation of the Day: “If style and meaning are in fact identical, a student of style must study meaning or be merely working with phlogiston.” Louis Tonko Milic, “The Problem of Style,” in Contemporary Rhetoric 279 (W. Ross Winterowd ed., 1975).
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