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Dangling Participles


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Hey, what do you guys think about dangling participles? I've noticed that the rule against them seems to be easing...

ex: "...the rock he was sitting on." vs. "...the rock on which he was sitting."

I find that the second construction is a little formal and awkward, and i hate using the word 'which' in fiction, as it's rather weak.

any comments?



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You are actually addressing two issues with this post. The first is definitely about dangling participles. The second is the proper sentence construciton using preopositions. The example you used shows the interconnected problem.

Dangling Participles:

There is hardly ever a good reason to finish a sentence with a present participle. The general syntax of English (Subject-Verb-Object) tends to negate this usage. As I sit here and try to think of a case where it could or would be used, my brain cannot cough up an example. It may be I am too inculcated with the rules of grammar to do so. All I can do is come up with alternate wording for your examples.

"He was sitting on a rock."

"The rock upon which he was sitting was wet."

Nope, I just can't do it. Basically, there is rarely a good excuse for using a dangling participle.


Rule - Do not end a sentence with a preposition.

Reality - Contemporary American English plays fast and loose with this rule.

Result - Not knowing how to use prepositions properly is simply lazy and sloppy.

Once again, the basic syntax of English helps resolve the issue. However, the examples provided show a vast underlying set of concerns. Prepositions require a proper use of nouns (or pronouns) and ordering the flow of action in the sentect. The verb (or predicate) will point out the direct object and the indirect object, and the preposition reveals the direction of the interactio between the two. Then there is also the side issue of indeterminate articles and indefinite pronouns, and those affect the construction of the sentence. It is also best to look to the simple sentence and English syntax to divine the correct order of words, including the placement of prepositions.

In the second example I created concerning dangling participles, you can see the order at work.

The rock {subject} upon {preposition} which {indeterminate article} he {indirect object - using an indefinte pronoun} was sitting {verb complex} was wet {compliment to the object}.

The entire sentence is aimed at describing the rock and includes two specific pieces of information regarding its condition and relationship with another noun. There are two simple sentences that can be pulled out of this:

1) The rock was wet.

2) He was sitting on the rock.

However, the second sentence is a subordinate to the first sentence since the goal of the sentence is to describe the rock and the person. Always fall back on the direct object to decide how to construct the rest of the sentence.

I hope this helped and did not confuse the issue(s).


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The problem is that common usage does place prepositions at the end, after the objects they modfiy. In fact, some uses almost require that to make sense. "I am going to log on." The reader or listener fills in the unspoken object, the computer or network.

The basic problem is that the grammar rules are derived from Latin models, but English is not entirely a Latin-derived language, especially now. Also, English usage, the language itself, is changing.


But that doesn't answer the question. What should an author or editor do with a problem sentence? What if it sounds stilted? If it does, it probably is. In dialogue, I'd allow a lot more leeway. In exposition, I'd allow more in fiction than I would in non-fiction, where standard formal usage is important.

How should the author or editor solve the problem?

The rock on which he was sitting was wet. (Or even "upon," rather than "on.")

Correct formal usage, but it sounds too formal. Most people don't talk that way, and few people write that way.

The rock he was sitting on was wet.

Still correct, stronger style, it makes sense, and it sounds less stuffy. The writer has inverted the object and subject to give some variety to his or her style.

He was sitting on a wet rock.

Active voice, correct, strong, sounds fine, looks good.

-- My point is that the sentence can be rewritten any number of ways to get across the idea. The style should fit the piece and the person who is thinking or speaking in the story. If you're writing non-fiction, it also must fit the piece, and more importantly, the target audience.

-- I won't even ask why he insists on sitting on a wet rock. I'll assume no suitably dry seating is available. I suppose it's fine if he's in a good mood and it's warm and sunny out.

-- If your participles are dangling, perhaps you might need some better underwear... or an interested friend.... :lol:

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Ok...that's helpful.

Drake, if you can't imagine an instance in which a dangling participle could occur, then you haven't edited for a certain someone who shall remain nameless to spare him scorn and shame (I love you, Jamie...you KNOW i do!).

So here's a more pertinent example:

"The boulder crashed to the ground nearby, crushing the edge of the rock he was sitting on."

This is the sort of thing i'm dealing with. I'm sorry if i'm being obtuse here, but i swear, some of the instances that i'm dealing with make me sweat.



Blue--I don't wear underwear, so that's out. But i'm always willing to discuss 'interested friends'...lol

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Okay -- Please have pity on me. I'm only a poor colonial who's high school days are too far in the past for me to remember. English was also always my worst subject... (as you can probably tell by that appalling sentence construct).

Just like there is a thread on grammar and other FAQ's, can someone please do an FAQ on the correct terms to be used when talking about grammar? I can understand most of what is said above, but it was hard going.

Thanks in anticipation....


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"The boulder crashed to the ground nearby, crushing the edge of the rock he was sitting on."

This is the sort of thing i'm dealing with.

[ .... ]

Blue--I don't wear underwear, so that's out. But i'm always willing to discuss 'interested friends'...lol

:lol: Good to know, certainly entertaining. I'm a briefs kinda guy. Uh, what was the topic again? I got distracted. Oh yeah.

Notice you ended a sentence with a preposition

But yeah, it's generally frowned upon grammar-wise.


For Graeme's sake, since he and lots of others don't speak grammar-speak:

Present Participle: The "-ing" form of the verb. It indicates continuing action or performs a noun-like or adjective-like function. When it functions like a noun or an adjective, it's called a gerund.

Past Participle: The "-ed" form of the verb. It indicates past or completed action or functions like an adjective or noun.

Preposition: on, in, of, to, by... and many others. The example sometimes used to identify them is: "The squirrel is ____ the tree." No, no -ing words go there. And if you thought about the squirrel f***ing the tree, well, let's not examine that too closely, shall we?

Prepositions join the verb with the object on which the verb acts.

The grammar rule says it's bad form to end a sentence with a preposition, *because* it (supposedly) makes it unclear what the object acted upon is.

Incorrect: The cat jumpedl and knocked over the table the vase was sitting on.

Correct: The cat jumped and knocked over the table on which the vase was sitting.

The prepostion is "positioned before" (pre-) the object to which it relates. That "which" word usually is used.

Notice that I've stuck with the construction using "(preposition) which." no conjunction there either, I had prep. or conj. there a second ago.

As a general rule, you should too, when writing, except in casual dialogue. This is so that you don't give your reader or your editor the wrong impression of your skill with English writing.

I'll put up a starting post for a FAQ on grammatical terms too.

I guess my brain was on hold. If you saw the inclusion of conjunctions in the statemens above, I wasn't thinking clearly. Sorry.

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Edited To Add: Drake wrote to say he hadn't meant to post the reply that was right above this, and asked that I delete it. I didn't find his post bothersome in the least, but I've deleted it for now. He said he'd reply once he had it worked out more to his liking. So, everybody, please give Drake a virtual {{hug}} or at least a pat on the back and a big grin, for feeling like his reply was poorly done. I don't think anyone else thought so, Drake.

Drake, I'm fairly used to grammatical terms, but that got a little convoluted.

I think my sentence was fine, but your rewrite was also fine.

I'm going to write you with a question on your parsing of the sentence, because my interpretation is somewhat different, and I'd like your opinion on it, in case I'm not seeing something obvious.

By the way, my cat hasn't broken any ceramics lately. He's usually better behaved than that.


On a side note, when I checked something, I realized how old and worn out my pocket French-English dictionary had become. I ordered a new one, which naturally meant ordering additional books and saving others for future purchase.

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Now that I have recovered from the flurry of flashbacks to my Classical Lit degree and Latin classes .....

Blue I must quibble with yourexamplar, though not critically, as the rules you describe are correct! The term "to log on" is actually a verb - the infinitive form to be exact. "On" does not stand alone in that sentence and neither does "log." One might say there is an implied hyphen between the two words, thus forming a new word in some invisible, quasi-Germanic way.

You are correct that English grammar relies heavily on Latin though the methods greatly differ. I bet you know these factoids, but in the intersts of digression and esoteric postings . . . In Latin, the function of a noun is shown via its form which included the preposition. Just as verbs change depending on usage ("conjugating" ), Latin noun forms change ("declensions") when their case changes (nominative, accusitive, etc. English leaves the noun alone (usually) and requires some other method to show the noun's function, such as word order or prepositions. Technically, one could almost arrange the words in a Latin sentence or clause in any order and not change the meaning. Using English's more cumbersome method, we must beware dangling, orphaning, or running on in English!

[NOTE: No prepositions were harmed in the writing of this post. All the words cooperated freely in fact, however, they decline any responsibility for the overall post which remains the liability of the author.]


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:lol: Heheheh! Esoteric postings are welcome. ;) So is any Liberal Arts degree, including Classics. Shoot, anything to class up the joint would be welcome.

Hmm. I think you're talking about the way English used to flip the verb and preposition to form a new word, such as, output, uplift, undergo, that sort of thing, as well as how English and other languages link a verb and preposition to form a special unit. English simply treats them as separately spaced words.

A little grammatical humor: Those words could only "decline" if they were nouns or pronouns. ;) :lol: (Declension, decline, y'all.) Oh, OK, so it was too esoteric....

I'd better be careful, I'm liable to send the thread on a tangent.

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You are correct that English grammar relies heavily on Latin though the methods greatly differ. I bet you know these factoids, but in the intersts of digression and esoteric postings . . .

The origins of English do not lie in Latin. The Angelns and Juts (who came by way of Jutland in the form of Vikings) landed on the British Isles around 410 CE, and had become the completely dominant force by 830 CE. They brought with them the Frisian language that is the basis for all Germanic languages. The Romans had abandoned the islands by 400 CE, and the effects of Latin were felt more heavily, up to that point, in the Gaelic and Pictish languages. For over 600 years the Frisian tongue was the main language of the Brits. The wars between the Angelns/Juts, Gaels, and Picts witnessed the sidelining of the native Irish and Scottish tongues. When the Normans of France came to the Brtion throne in 1060 CE, with William the Conqueror at the lead, the process of amalgamating two languages, languages that were not complimentary to one another, started to unfold as the ruling class became French.

English is a bastard language, but around if not over 60% is rooted in proto-German. English grammar still reflects these origins very strongly. The introduction of French, and the attempt to switch the language of Briton, failed miserably. Old French was overlaid onto the new variant Briton Frisian by the common people, and the native language became a mishmash. Old English looks and reads German by and large, and Middle English is not that far of a cast-off. The competing difference in the Latin-based French and the Frisian-based proto-German created the miasma that is English today. It is neither French nor German, but it's own language. Attempts were made through the centuries to apply the grammar rule of Latin to English, and the results was nothing more than confusion. Latinate languages and Germanic languages do not merge well at all. The rules of grammar are strikingly different despite some seeming similarities (thanks to proto-Sanskrit).

The most famous faux pas (and the pun is intended) is the rule of Split Infinitives. German and Frisian (the language still exists in some parts of Denmark and the Netherlands) create infinitives by the addition of a suffix, but the infinitive can be modified by slapping another word onto or around it. Latin does not because the infinitive is a single word and the modifier cannot intrude into the word... a Frisian allows. When English was developing, the dichotomy between French and Frisian caused a new formation: the use of two words to create an infinitive. Some daft bishop tried to ramrod a Latin rule into English, thinking English needed to follow Latin more closely for religious reasons. Thus, it was deemed unseemly to place a word between "to" and "{verb}". It worked for almost three hundred years, but the OED finally declared the rule null and void about 5 years ago. The rule makes no sense in English. We have Gene Roddenbery and Star Trek to thank for the demolition of the Split Infinitive rule.

Arguments about the use of Latinate rules of grammar in English are prone error. Even the argument about the use of Germanic rules of grammar in English are flawed. English is its own language now. The fight in English has been raging for nearly 1,000 years, since the Norman conquest. The ability of English to adapt to and to adopt other languages is found in the evolution. It seems to change regularly every 400 years, and there is a wide debate in the linguistic community about reclassifying the genre of English from Modern to Contemporary. It has been 400 years since William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon set down what we currently consider Modern English. The time has come to recognize a new stage of English. Moreover, we also need to understand the roots of the language to get any clear notion as to how and why it morphs as it does. One of the biggest driving forces in the change of English is something called The Big Pond, or the Atlantic Ocean. American English is, I believe, its own dialect. The same can almost be said for Australian and South African English. Only radio and television have kept the bonds between British English and the colonial cousins tied together.

Well, speaking of esoteric digressions, I think this fit the bill.


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Well, just to fully derail the thread (note the split infinitive) and add to the fun, here's another language-geek comment.

{ Split Inifinitive: "...to boldly go where no man has gone before." The adverb "boldly" splits the infinitive "to go." }

Er, Old English = Anglo-Saxon = Aenglisc, not Frisian (Friese) or Dutch or German. They are our linguistic cousins. -- They arrived from Angeln, Jutland, Saxony (Sachse in Germany) and probably other parts of what's now The Netherlands (Holland, the Low Countries, where Dutch is spoken now). Old English is a Germanic language. -- The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Brittania pushed out the Bretons and other Celts. Some of the Bretons landed in Brittany, France (Bretagne). The Old English were among the first Germanic people to adopt Christianity and the Latin alphabet instead of Germanic runes.

Middle English = Anglo-Norman, started with William the Conqueror, a Norman French duke of questionable repute. The Norman French became the ruling class. The Anglo-Saxons were mostly the underclass, although Saxon clergy and Saxon nobles remained. Norman French invaded the English language in every way. (The Normans were "Frenchified" Norsemen, oddly enough.) It is why we have such odd spelling, including that strange gh and ou versus u. Middle English grammar simplified. People like Robin Hood (who may have been real) and Richard Coeur-de-Lyon (Richard the Lion-Heart) are why we started speaking English again. They also contributed, inadvertently to what became English democracy. -- During that time, Latin-like grammar from French and Latin was lumped into English grammar. They didn't quite gel, because the two languages are so unlike. So our language uses a large number of Norman words and some grammatical rules plus a large number of Saxon words and most of our grammar. Then tack on a few Viking words and a few Gaelic words.

That simplified mix formed the basis for Modern English to adopt words from every language it encountered. From Shakespeare and others and the King James Bible, down to recent times, as English people colonized and conquered, local dialects sprang up normally.

We have American spelling because a language scholar, Noah Webster and others, wanted to give American English its own "modern" identity and reform outdated spelling. They didn't quite succeed, but they created American spelling differences.

Then something unheard of happened: The Industrial Age. Modern travel by ship and train. Quick communication by mail from them and then by phone and telegraph. Then planes and cars and radio, film, and TV. And then computer communications.

We are now seeing a global merger of English dialects and foreign words. (All languages, not just English are importing words left and right.) So now we are dealing with Americans, Brits, Aussies, Asian Indians... everyone's English dialect and native language adding words for ideas and things that just don't exist here, but that we now buy on our store shelves and see on video and talk about on forums and e-mail and IM chat. Then there are the techs and creatives who are inventing things that no one has a word for.

And our langage is struggling to update a grammar and spelling that dates back to the early 1600's.

So people like me, who edit and proof and write, are stuck with the decisions on that. Thru instead of through? Lite? Lo? Hi? -- E-mail or email? Website or web site, webpage or web page? -- More importantly, how much of ordinary speech do we accept as proper form, instead of the formal rules we grew up with, that say those are wrong, substandard, uneducated, and so on. We have ordinary people editing, typing, and printing their own documents. (Real freedom of the press, but it causes things that trained people would do differently.) That causes things to show up that an editor or typographer or graphic artist would "fix." Is that fixing it, if it doesn't reflect what people really say, even literate people, like those who read and write here? (Unless I've bored them to sleep.)

Never mind what some of the current shortcomings of web formats do to typesetting and graphics.

...Oh, sorry, I went off on a professional rant there. The difference between what you see in printed publications, versus what you can show properly on the web cause designers, both the web techs and the graphics people, to tear their hair out and curse their screens. -- You have no idea what I'd give for flowing story columns, good typography, real font choices, and true vector graphics on the web, instead of clunky tables and big, bulky, technicially inefficient and visually ugly bitmaps and Flash animations.


This is what happens when you give someone like me a keyboard and mouse....


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