Let your words take wing.
The Chicago Manual of Style is probably the most relied-upon of all the style manuals, and is very comprehensive. It’s hefty, but worth picking up when you’re having trouble.
There are more user-friendly options for writers, but for the professional editor, The Chicago Manual is indispensable. I use it to jog my memory, to solve sticky problems (like how to hyphenate “early twenty-first-century French furniture”) and to help with style decisions, along with The Associated Press Stylebook and others.
I’m not a big fan of secret code words. I wonder if phrases like "dangling participle" (or "misplaced modifier," same thing) were just created to separate the Official English Teachers from the rest of us. Whatever name we give them, though, participles do dangle, and it pays to know what to do about it.
First, let me describe one of these “participles” so you can identify it, should you ever run across one in the wild. A participle looks like a verb, but acts like an adjective. (It modifies a noun.) It’s easy to remember if you recall that a dangling participle is the same as a misplaced modifier. The "modifier" reminds you what a participle does. Or, rather, what it should do.
Being a grandmother, he seemed quite young to me.
What it should not do is dangle. A dangling modifier is one that doesn’t know which word it is modifying. You could say that it’s not positioned properly.
Walking in the dark alleyway, rats were scavanging, and shadows were everywhere.
The problem isn’t that these sentences violate some obscure rule. It’s more practical than that. Sometimes they seem silly, and that can be a bad thing in serious writing. (See the grandmother example.)
They can also cause honest confusion. Is the batboy sweating, or are the players? We need to know! (Or maybe not.)
Hot and sweating, the batboy ran back and forth bringing water to the players.
The sentences need to be rephrased in order to avoid the dangling problem, but that’s simple enough to do. It can’t be done mechanically, though. The context is very important. Here are some suggestions that come to mind.
Even when dangling participles don’t cause confusion, and they aren’t silly, these critters should be avoided. They are stumbling blocks. Your readers may understand well enough, but they will have to pause, if for only a fraction of a second, while their brains process the strange construction.
This is why you’ll hear me say, "Be kind to your reader. Edit."
Request your free 1000 word sample edit, or just email with questions: Angela Harms