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Saturday, June 14, 2008

A "Secret" Construction That Helps You Vary Sentence Structure and Avoid the Horrible Dangling Participles

This is a continuation of the conversation created by the post a couple of days ago. Just scroll down a bit. (-:

Question: This is a question about dangling participles (and I'm blushing at how guilty I am - but I never knew what they were. ahem!) The reason I do them is because I don't want to start every sentence with 'I' in a query letter or 'he, she, characters name,' in a fiction book - so I use the gerund or dangelly participle to change the sentence structure - Got any tips on how to do that without using the ING, ED, or EN on the end of my words.

Congratulations on being quoted in that book (Dee and Brian Powers' book on promotion) too.

Billie A. Williams, author of The Bread and Breakfast Murders

Answer: Billie, here is one rarely used construction one might use to vary your sentences. Begin your sentence with a "That." I goes something like this. "That Billie Williams didn't know the very boring terms for dangling participles and gerunds doesn't deter her from writing well." You see, the whole "that" clause serves as a subject and there is not an "ing" anywhere.

About that idea that verbs that end in "en" and "ed" might indicate that you have used a dangler and that they should be avoided. Not really. Where would fiction writers (and writer!) be without simple past tense! LOL. Those "ings" are a different story. If you use one, know that it could very well lead you in that dangling participle trap. Doesn't mean that progressive tenses and other uses for "ing" aren't grammatically correct. Just be careful. Double check when you see one. Because they are often associated with danglers, they may give you a clue. We all know those danglers are especially hard to see when they are our own.

BTW, there is a section in The Frugal Editor on dangling participles, gerunds and more. It may shed more light on how to avoid one and use the other less frequently.

PS: This conversation originates two posts down in this blog. Boyd Sutton, editor of the Wisconsin Writers' Journal, weighs in on grammatical terms, some odd uses of prepositions with verbs and more.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at

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