Writers, do your editors red-mark you for dangling participles? Or do you have a grammar cop critique partner who cites you for a dangler? Have no fear. Grammar Cop is here.

First, know what is meant by participle. A participle is a verb behaving as an adjective…sort of. For example, in the sentence Sensing that she was stressed, I kept my mouth shut, the phrase Sensing that she was stressed modifies the pronoun and serves as an adjective. Yet the phrase also reveals the “why” of the subject’s behavior, serving as an adverb. Regardless of the participle’s label, it modifies the subject of the sentence. That’s crucial for writers to remember when self-editing.

The trouble arises when the participle doesn’t modify the subject. It’s left dangling. For example, Sensing she was stressed, a hush fell over the room.  Seems absurd, right? The room can’t sense her feelings of stress. The people in the room might, if the writer is using third-person omniscient point of view.

My pet peeve is the participle growing up. Be careful or you might commit a gaffe like Growing up, my parents didn’t know where our next meal would come from. or Growing up, there was no remote control for the television. Growing up is a dangling participle in either example. The subject of the sentence is not modified by the participle.

Participles are useful when applied correctly. Just don’t let yours dangle.