Usage Tips: Participles, Week of 4/10/2011

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Usage Tips: Participles, Week of 4/10/2011

Post by Rudy on Sun Apr 10, 2011 10:40 am

Present versus Past
A present participle uses the verb form -ing and shows an event that happened simultaneously with the other verbs in the sentence.

Walking through the hedge maze, she basked in the scent of the flowers.
Coughing, he walked toward the nurse's office.

A past participle shows a prior event. It sometimes requires a having/being form, though in some constructions the initial part is implied rather than written.

Having pulled in the driveway, he shut off the ignition and climbed out of his car.
[Having been] Born in Augusta Maine, he now teaches drama at Princeton.

Common Mistakes
Why, danglers of course. Generally, a participle functions in an adjectival sense, which is to say it modifies a noun. Typically, a participle modifies the closest noun.

Sometimes the danglers are obvious--

Standing in the meadow, the birds flew over our heads.

--while others are less obvious. These less obvious errors can involve adjacent possessives.

Walking down the street, my focus drifted to the abandoned house (read: I focused my attention on the house)
Born in Manhattan, Cal's resume is impressive (apparently his resume was born in Manhattan)

Possessives
Participles can also functions as subjects and objects. In this case, they become gerunds. When used in this sense, be wary of what Fowler referred to as "fused participles." The gerund ought to have a possessive, though not a subject.

I understand you not commenting
(should be "your," as the emphasis of the gerund is on the verb "commenting")

Simultaneous action
Perhaps a forgotten rule of English is that present participles (-ing) happen at the same time as the rest of the sentence. Sometimes a writer uses a present participle when a past participle was really intended. This error is common, even in published books.

Swimming across the river, Eric put on his sneakers and walked back to his car
(if Eric can really swim across the river, put on his shoes, and walk back to his car at the same time--that's one talented fellow. An easy fixing is to use the past participle: Having swam across the river, Eric slipped on his sneakers ... )
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Re: Usage Tips: Participles, Week of 4/10/2011

Post by chergreen on Fri Apr 15, 2011 2:59 pm

Rudy, another interesting post. I need to study over this more. Your last example. I would have wrote: After swimming across the river, Eric put on his sneakers.. Do you think that works?
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Re: Usage Tips: Participles, Week of 4/10/2011

Post by Rudy on Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:55 pm

chergreen wrote:Rudy, another interesting post. I need to study over this more. Your last example. I would have wrote: After swimming across the river, Eric put on his sneakers.. Do you think that works?

Cher, I've seen some writers do that, where the timing issue is sort of resolved by "after"; I've also heard some language pedants say this doesn't really resolve the issue. This rule--meaning the present participle happening at the same time as the other verbs--isn't as clearly spelled out in English as it is in Spanish and French. So, it's a little ambiguous, meaning the "after"; me personally, I would just use the past participle, or I'd write it, "Eric Swam across the river, put on his shoes, and walked back to his car" which doesn't imply simultaneous action.
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