Dangling Participles

A participle is a verb form that acts as an adjective. Most participles end in "ing," "ed," or "en." Participles have some of the features of a verb, such as tense, voice, and requirement for an object.

A participle is said to "dangle" if its implied subject is not the subject of the main clause of the sentence. Thus, a dangling participle implies an actor but does not specify who or what it is, thereby leaving proper participle-subject matching up to the reader. In some instances, this may lead to gross misinterpretations.

Let us consider an example:

^ Incorrect because of dangling participle: Structured into various sections, the readers of this review can choose the topic of primary interest.

Here, the participle ("structured") appears to refer to the readers. Clearly, it is the review that is structured into various sections. The author leaves this deduction to the reader. The sentence can be corrected as follows:

^ Correct: The review is structured into various sections, which allows the readers to choose the topic of primary interest.

Similarly, participles ending in "ing" often cause danglers in scientific writing:

^ Incorrect because of dangling participle: Paying attention to the rules of good writing, most texts can be improved.

It is not the texts that should pay attention to the rules; it is the writers. To correct the sentence, remove the dangling participle:

^ Correct: Most texts can be improved if writers pay attention to the rules of good writing.

One participle that often causes problems is "based on." Let us look at an example:

^ Incorrect because of dangling participle: Based on our experience, microsomal preparations are more useful than hepatocytes.

Are microsomal preparations based on experience? Clearly, the authors base their conclusion on experience. You can untangle the sentence by either making "experience" the subject of the sentence or using the personal pronoun "we":

^ Correct: Experience shows that microsomal preparations are more useful than hepatocytes.

Better because active: We consider microsomal preparations more useful than hepatocytes.

The two "-ing" words "following" and "using" are particularly troublesome. Thus, it is good advice to avoid them wherever possible, as shown in Table 4.11.

Table 4.11 Avoiding "Following"and "Using"

AVOID

PREFERRED

Following the appropriate guidelines, the abstracts were much clearer.

The abstracts were much clearer if authors followed (or applied) the appropriate guidelines.

Using a validated HPLC method, four metabolites were detected.

Four metabolites were detected by a validated HPLC method. Better because active: We detected four metabolites by the use of a validated HPLC method.

Q Carefully check proper participle include a participle.

-subject matching in sentences that

Not all "ing"-words are participles. Gerunds also end in "ing," but they act as nouns rather than as adjectives. Like dangling participles, dangling gerunds imply an actor without specifying the person or thing.

^ Incorrect because of dangling gerund: After terminating drug treatment, behavioral therapy is recommended.

Better: Behavioral therapy is recommended after discontinuation of drug treatment.

The upper sentence implies that behavioral therapy terminates drug treatment. Again, the actor, i.e., the person stopping the therapy, is just assumed but is not specified.

Q Avoid dangling gerunds by using an alternative noun and proper word order.

Q Exercise 7

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