Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (23 Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles)

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Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles

Editors frequently correct both of these, but one is actually ok to use, while the other is not. Care to make a wager on which one is which before I get started?

Ante up!

What is a split infinitive, after all? It’s a sentence where a word, usually an adverb, interrupts a full verb (or full infinitive). A full infinitive is the verb with the word “to” in front of it—to run, to walk, to spit. The most famous split infinitive is “to boldly go.” Editors and teachers used to mark this as incorrect, but it’s all right to split an infinitive. Some examples are:

  • Lyn continued to quickly run toward the burning building.

  • Willow wanted to generously sprinkle sugar on her doughnut.

  • Earl’s dog struggled to boldly chase the skunk.

If you want to avoid irritating some readers who will read these words and insist they are wrong (as Word’s grammar checker does—I have a green squiggly line under each of my three examples), it’s a relatively simple matter to avoid splitting an infinitive by reworking the sentence.

  • Lyn continued to run quickly toward the burning building.

  • Willow wanted to sprinkle sugar generously on her doughnut.

  • Earl’s dog struggled to chase the skunk boldly.

You can see, though, that in the last case, it is unclear as to whether or not Earl’s dog struggled boldly or wanted to chase boldly. If you’re determined to avoid a split infinitive, reworking may be necessary.

Now we move on to dangling participles, which is the one that definitely needs to be fixed!

(Appropriate money changes hands here.)

Adjectives ending in “ing” and “ed” need to be used with care to ensure they’re modifying the proper noun. Examples of “ing” adjectives are “streaming video” or “hiking campers.” As a phrase, an “ing” adjective is usually set off by commas.

  • Floating in the pool, I gazed at the fluffy white clouds.

Floating in the pool” is the participle phrase that modifies the subject “I.” This is simple, as the phrase is right next to the subject. You can get into trouble, however, when a participle phrase occurs in the middle of a sentence, when a sentence is long and involved and the phrase is not near the subject, or there is more than one subject or in the sentence.

They’re called “dangling” because they are not firmly attached to the correct subject.

  • Floating in the pool, the fluffy white clouds looked beautiful as I gazed at them.

Who was floating in the pool? We understand, after the first example, that I am still the one gazing at the fluffy white clouds. But now, in the second example, the subjects nearest the participle phrase are the clouds themselves. In this example, what was really written is that the clouds are floating in the pool.

As the writer, you may understand perfectly what you have written. But there may be some confusion on the part of the reader if you dangle your participle phrase.

Here are some other sentences that I found on the Internet which contain dangling participles:

  • Hiking in the forest, the birds chirped impressively.

  • Wanting to sing, the high notes taunted me.

  • Flying gaily from flower to flower, the football player watched the bee.

  • Looking around the yard, dandelions sprouted in every corner.

  • Running after the school bus, the backpack bounced from side to side.

  • Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls.

How would you rework these?

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!

Susan

Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing

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22 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (23 Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles)

  1. Reblogged this on Pukah Works and commented:
    I have to chuckle when you mention *long* sentence structure. I’m getting better, but I still have more than my fair share of corrections with participle corrections once edits and critiques come back from the betas and front line editor. Sooner or later the clue-by-four will be exchanged for a steel I beam… then the idea may actually sink in and stay put.

    Thanks for the article, as usual Susan and Chris.

    (and for the challenge:

    Hiking in the forest, the birds chirped impressively.
    becomes:
    While I hiked in the forest I listened to the birds chirping impressively.

    Wanting to sing, the high notes taunted me.
    Becomes:
    The high notes taunted me and made me want to sing.

    Flying gaily from flower to flower, the football player watched the bee.
    becomes:
    The football player watched the bee flying gaily from flower to flower.

    Looking around the yard, dandelions sprouted in every corner.
    becomes:
    Looking around the yard, I saw dandelions sprouting in ever corner.

    Running after the school bus, the backpack bounced from side to side.
    becomes:
    The backpack bounced from side to side as I was running after the school bus.

    Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls.
    becomes:
    We saw Yosemite Falls plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on North of Andover and commented:
    “Floating in the pool, I gazed at the fluffy white clouds,” versus “Floating in the pool, the fluffy white clouds looked beautiful as I gazed at them.” — THIS is why some people have gotten the notion that beginning a sentence with an -ing word — ANY -ing word, for ANY reason — is incorrect. Read this post by Susan Uttendorfsky and learn how to identify dangling participles, how to avoid them, and how to use participles the right way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks … I needed that! WORD is always yelling me about split infinitives, using her little green line for emphasis. I usually ignore her. But the next time she bitches at me, I’m gonna tell her to read this article.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love the football player who flies from flower to flower! The dangling participial phrase (and its sibling, the misplaced prepositional phrase) is one of my pet peeves. An example would be “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” – Groucho Marx. I treated this same subject in my very first Old Grammarian post: :http://termitewriter.blogspot.com/2012/08/ye-olde-grammarian.html

    Liked by 2 people

  5. LOL! I don’t know which one is my favorite: the football player or Yosemite Falls!

    Susan, you actually offered TWO lessons for the price of one here y’know. The clever opening of making a challenge bet was very engaging and would have sucked me right in even if it wasn’t you at the other end of the keyboard!

    I won the bet btw. :> So I’ll now flit from flower to flower before plunging over the falls while singing high notes, side to side, after my hike.

    Like

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