More participle problems

November 23, 2011

I’ve blogged about dangling participles in September.

But participles can cause mayhem even when they are not dangling. Incorrect use of participles is one of the mistakes that I find much too often in fiction.

So what’s the problem?

Present participles are used to describe actions that happen at the same time (= simultaneous actions). If one action happens after the other (= sequential actions), you shouldn’t use a participle.

CORRECT: Holding the tray steadily, Annie approached Drew.

Since she can hold the tray and approach Drew at the same time, these are simultaneous actions and the participle reflects that. Nothing wrong with that sentence.

WRONG: Parking her car, she walked into the house.

First, she parks the car, then she walks into the house. These actions don’t happen at the same time, so using a participle to connect those two actions is incorrect.

I often find incorrectly used participles with dialogue too.

WRONG: “Don’t tempt me,” she said, laughing.

Since she can’t talk and laugh at the same time, you should rewrite the sentence.

CORRECT: “Don’t tempt me.” She laughed.

There are two exceptions/tricks when you want to use a participle for sequential actions:

  1. You can use a preposition: After parking her car, she walked into the house.
  2. You can use what is called the perfect participle: Having parked the car, she walked into the house.

Most often, it might be better to rewrite the sentence, though. Too many participles create a monotonous rhythm.

By the way, you can use the “find” function in MS Word to highlight all your present participles and other words ending in “-ing”. That makes it easier to weed out all the overused and incorrectly used participles. Here’s the link to the old post.


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