Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dandy Danglers

Quick—what do hoop earrings, carrots, bungee jumpers, the late Michael Jackson’s baby, and participles have in common?  Why, they’re all things that may dangle.  Today we’re going to concentrate on participles and other modifiers that dangle. 

The dictionary says dangle  means to “hang loosely, without being firmly attached,” and a dangling modifier is a word or phrase in a sentence that is not clearly attached to the word that it modifies. The most famous occurrence is that of a present participle, whose subject is separated from it or unstated: “Watching television, time flew by quickly.” It was not the time that was watching television, but the people (unstated) who were helping time fly.  You might say, “Watching television, we passed the time quickly” or “As we watched television, time flew by quickly.”  In either event, they were probably not watching the same TV shows I see, which move very slowly.

Many other modifiers—past participles, adjectival and adverbial phrases, objective clauses—may dangle, as the following examples, drawn from actual items in print, will demonstrate:   
            Yoko Ono will discuss husband John Lennon's murder 
            during an interview with Anderson Cooper.

            Tonight at 8:00 Terry Waite discusses five years in a 
            Beirut prison cell with Barbara Walters.

            Although irregular, I will consider your request.

           The convicted killer was given life in prison with the 
            possibility of parole after four hours of deliberation.

            Tickets will go on sale for the Yankees-Red Sox game
            at 6:00 p.m. in the box office.
            Bill Smith photographed bears scooping up salmon 
            using a Nikon camera.            
            Researchers will study women who became pregnant 
            after the age of 40 with the help of a National Science 
            Foundation grant.            
            He ran after a cat in his pajamas.
            We sat under the ancient trees that had survived for  
            centuries drinking beer.
            Hidden in a small kitchen drawer, Mrs. Johnson   
            safeguarded her neighbor's house key.

            Police submitted a report on the sale of $1 million in 
            heroin to the district attorney.
            The law is aimed at punishing hunters who illegally 
            shoot deer and the merchants who sold them the 
            We saw many bears driving through Yellowstone Park.

            Jogging in the park, a tree branch fell on Mary.

            He almost kicked the ball 60 yards to score a field 

            She would only play bridge with Harvard graduates.

            Actors who argue with directors frequently are 

            Prisoners who smile often are paroled.

            Totally smashed, Ed viewed his car with alarm.

            Ignoring all strictures against allowing his participles to dangle, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou came up with this bit of grammatical horror resting in his hammock:

            Strolling with my sweetheart at the zoo,
            Making goo-goo eyes,
            A lion came into my view,
            Taken by surprise.
            With vicious teeth and claws and fearsome roar,
            Preparing to attack,
            I faced him like a matador,
            Advancing, he fell back.
            “My hero!” cried my sweetheart, smiling wide—
            And then I thought I’d strangle.           
            “I meant that kingly lion,” she cried,
            “Not you—your modifiers dangle.”

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