Participles on the edge

When editing the writing of others, the most common grammar offense I encounter is the dreaded dangling participle.

Example: The robber ran from the policeman, still holding the money in his hands.

Quick! Who is holding the money? Is it the robber or the policeman? According to the structure of this sentence, it was the policeman that was still holding the money in his hands. Does that make sense? No.

Nuts and bolts: Adjectives ending in -ing (and sometimes –ed) are called participles. Participles modify nouns. The antecedent (the noun to which the participle refers) must be clear otherwise an action may be ascribed to the wrong player, such as “holding” to the policeman. The participle is then left “dangling” without a clear antecedent, hence the appellation “dangling participle.”

Better: The robber – still holding the money in his hands – ran from the policeman. Yes, this is a longer and more complex sentence. But in consideration of our readers, we always must do whatever it takes to ensure the meaning of each and every sentence is absolutely clear. Another option is to get rid of the darn thing altogether. Example: Money still in hand, the robber ran from the policeman.

Most readers of business content are skimming it at light speed and so will not take the time to stop and mentally reconnect a misplaced participle with its correct antecedent. They will simply disregard the sentence and move on to the next one. If you cause the reader to do that too many times, next time they see your name on a piece of content they likely will disregard the entire piece before they read the first word.

Assignment: Go forth and dangle participles no more.

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