How to Fix Misplaced Participial Phrases

Updated on August 20, 2018
Marie Flint profile image

Marie is a Michigan State University alumnus and has over 10 years of business writing experience. She writes content, poetry, and stories.

As a square peg to a round hole, a misplaced phrase can be awkward..
As a square peg to a round hole, a misplaced phrase can be awkward..

What is a participial phrase?

Don't let the title overwhelm you. If you write, you are probably using participial phrases already without realizing it. In the excitement of expressing yourself, sometimes these phrases get misplaced; instead of being next to the noun to be modified, the phrase accidentally gets placed next to a different noun in the sentence. These misplaced phrases can make the sentence awkward or confusing.

To improve your writing, you can learn to identify these types of phrases and correct them when they are out of place. The following video defines and identifies participial phrases.

Author's notes: The heading on the video that reads "participle phrases" is actually incorrect. The word "participle" is a noun form; participial is the adjective for "phrase." The instructor corrects the spelling in the video.


Although the participle can be either in the present -ing form or the past -ed form, this article deals primarily with the present -ing form, as this is the one that seems to be the most commonly misplaced.

Examples of Misplaced Participial Phrases

Example One

Sentence: The kitten pawed at the string, mewing as it played.

Participial phrase: mewing as it played

Correct: The kitten, mewing as it played, pawed at the string.

Also acceptable: Mewing as it played, the kitten pawed at the string.


Example Two

Sentence: The boy headed for the park, knowing full well he'd be late for school.

Participial phrase: knowing full well he'd be late for school

Correct: The boy, knowing full well he'd be late for school, headed for the park.

Also acceptable: Knowing full well he'd be late for school, the boy headed for the park.


Example Three

Sentence: The wind nearly swept the girl off her feet, blowing wildly.

Participial phrase: blowing wildly

Correct: The wind, blowing wildly, nearly swept the girl off her feet.

Also acceptable: Blowing wildly, the wind nearly swept the girl off her feet.

Acceptable verb order change: The wind blew wildly, nearly sweeping the girl off her feet.

Discussion: Here the verb "sweep" has been changed to a participle, while "blew" becomes the main verb. It is acceptable to have a participial phrase following the verb, as long as no other nouns or pronouns stand in the way. "Wildly" and "nearly" are adverbs and do not interfere with what the participial phrase modifies.


Do you see how the participial phrase belongs with the noun being modified? Obviously the string doesn't mew, the park doesn't know, and the feet don't blow. Do you see how the corrections make the meaning clearer?

All right, you might be saying, but perhaps you don't like the way the corrected sentences sound. Maybe the verb-other syntax at the end of the sentence is too pedantic. In that case, you don't have to use the verb form as a participle.

Changing a participial phrase can be as easy as child's play.
Changing a participial phrase can be as easy as child's play. | Source

Changing the Participle: Conjunction and Verb

Other than reordering the participial phrase in the sentence, you can change the verb form to a non-participial function. Here are the same sentences with a conjunction and past tense verb.

Sentence: The kitten pawed at the string and mewed as it played.

Discussion: The conjunction "and" was inserted, and "mewing" was changed to "mewed."


Sentence: The boy headed for the park, although he knew full well he'd be late for school.

Discussion: The conjunction "although" was inserted, and "knowing" was changed to "knew."


Sentence: The wind nearly swept the girl off her feet and blew wildly.

Discussion: The conjunction "and" has been inserted and "blowing" has been changed to "blew." The sentence, while grammatically acceptable, can still be improved by reordering the words.

Rewrite (better): The wind blew wildly and nearly swept the girl off her feet.

Discussion: The wind has to blow first in order to nearly sweep the girl off her feet. The revision makes chronological sense while preserving the meaning of the original sentence.

Common Conjunctions

A
B-F
N-S
T-W
and
but, but also
or
that
after
because
neither - nor
though
although
before
provided that
till
as, as if
either - or
so, so that
unless, until
as long as
for
not only
when, while
as though
if, in order that
since
where, whereas
Conjunctions are classified as coordinating, correlative, or subordinating. For the purpose of this hub table and article, the conjunctions are listed without classifications

Changing the Participle: Infinitive and Present Verb

Sentence: To mew was something the kitten did while playing with the string.

Discussion: The infinitive form is created by adding the preposition "to" and changing the participle "mewing" to the simple present verb tense "mew."


Sentence: Although he seemed to know full well that he would be late for school, the boy headed for the park.

Discussion: The infinitive form "to know" is used here as part of an introductory clause.


Sentence: As the wind began to blow wildly, the girl was nearly swept off her feet.

Discussion: The infinitive "to blow" now functions as part of the introductory clause. While "blow" is a present tense form, the main verbs "began" and "was" are past tense.

Cliches are worn out like this old shoe. They may comfortable, but they stink for originality.
Cliches are worn out like this old shoe. They may comfortable, but they stink for originality.

Participial Phrases: Cliches to Avoid

  • throwing (carrying) one's (his, my, etc.) weight
  • rearing an ugly head
  • beating around the bush
  • sticking out (risking) one's (his, my, etc.) neck
  • burning one's (his, my, etc.) bridges
  • working like a dog
  • fighting a losing battle
  • planting the seed
  • grinding one's (his, my, etc.) axe

The above phrases can function in other ways beside that of a participle, but they are still cliches. If you want to be original, don't use them.

A Quiz Review

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Credits and Resources

Seranek, P., et al.; Write for College: A Student Handbook; Write Source (Houghton Mifflin), Wilmington, MA (1997) ISBN 0-69-44402-2

http://foundmediagroup.com/square-pegs-round-holes-dogs-dont-hunt-30000-foot-view/ (Image of Square Peg in Round Hole)

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Marie Flint

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      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Thank you, Mr. Bruce Ching, for your educational comment. The examples you have given are helpful in identifying how verbs work as gerunds and in their tenses; however, this hub article is about participial phrases, not gerunds. I post your comment because it is helpful in understanding the difference. Blessings!

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        That's right Marie. Reading helps a lot. I commit to memory many of the words, phrases and structures I enjoyed from the book. I need to write them as I often forget but I am also weak in conjunctions. Thank you for the refresher.

      • profile image

        Permaul 

        3 years ago

        Change as a Gerund. I don't think so. The crucial point of grmaimtacal function is that gerunds are verbs turned into nouns. E.g., in the statement Running is good exercise, Running functions as a noun, the subject of the sentence. Other examples: My favorite way to pass time is reading. Blogging is my raison d'etre. Etc.But in your example, Are changing and have been changing and will be changing are all verbs. (Present progressive, present perfect progressive, and future progressive, respectively.) No gerunds there. If someone said, He is running, then of course running would not be a gerund in that context. If it were, then running would be a predicate nominative for that sentence but it's not.Sincerely, your colleague,Bruce Ching

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        That's the spirit!

        Oh, reading helps, too. I like to jot down new vocabulary words, include the sentence, find the definition with its root origin and be on the look out for other sentences using that word. A good vocabulary can really perk up one's writing. ~~~

      • Elsie Hagley profile image

        Elsie Hagley 

        4 years ago from New Zealand

        Thanks Marie. I appreciate your kind words. I will focus on those five senses, have written them down. I will see what come from them and hopefully those words will flow.

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Elsie, dear, the fact you do write (and probably enjoy it) is what's important--forget about age!

        Keeping a little daily journal does wonders for improving one's writing. Focus on the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Let your entries be descriptive about what you've experienced each day. Ideas will come; words will flow . . . and flow!

        Don't worry too much about the mechanics. While these are very helpful in expressing what you are trying to convey, thoughts and the feelings behind them are what attract readers the most.

        There's no "right" or "wrong" because everyone's experiences and perceptions are unique. Share yourself and don't be afraid.

        Certainly, if you'd like a second opinion about syntax, word choices, or that little pernicious comma, send it my way. I'll always do my best to find the time to help.

        Keep writing! ***

      • Elsie Hagley profile image

        Elsie Hagley 

        4 years ago from New Zealand

        I can see why you have 100 on your profile. I'm terrible with phrases and it would be my downfall writing a book..

        I have no idea how I can improve it, most likely too late in my old age.

        I'm even afraid to write here as I'm sure I will say it all wrong.

        Thanks for a very helpful hub, have voted it up.

      • brakel2 profile image

        Audrey Selig 

        4 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

        Hi Marie. Congrats on 100 score We all need grammar re views as we get careless in our writing and sometimes don't stop to think. . I received good English grades but failed an online grammar test by one point. This article provides a great review for me, and thanks for sharing your expertise. Sharing. Blessings. Audrey

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Thank you, EZ. In re-reading this hub, I may change some of the examples in the future--especially the verb-conjunction examples.

        I'm glad I was able to clarify these parts of sentence syntax for you. I especially appreciate the vote.

        Blessings!

      • EZ Swim Fitness profile image

        Kelly Kline Burnett 

        4 years ago from Southern Wisconsin

        Marie Flint,

        Excellent explanations and examples. Voted up! And I learned allot. I remember this topic in school but had forgotten the details - what a great refresher course.

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Thank you, Dora, for the read, comment, and vote. I always appreciate your follows. Yes, modifying phrases can get easily overlooked in our enthusiasm to write and publish. Blessings!

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 years ago from The Caribbean

        I agree that it is very easy to misplace these phrases, sometimes with the result of a meaning not intended, sometimes creating funny scenarios. Thank you for your valuable explanations and illustrations. Voted Up!

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Yes, Michael, it is a never-ending process for me, too, and here I am, a native English speaker!

        I recommend listening to journalists hosting the evening news. They have the best spoken English. Writing comes after the spoken word has been mastered, then, too, the rules become a little more rigid, although I have seen books published with dialectical English.

        I applaud your determination. Keep up the good work!

      • Michael-Milec profile image

        Michael-Milec 

        4 years ago

        Hi Marie.

        Thank you for helping me out.

        Learning English would be never ending process, especially for me still thinking in my native as well a couple more languages having learned before . This is quite difficult, when my son is around, he corrects me on spot. Meanwhile my aim is not giving up.

        Useful and interesting.

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        So true, MizBejabbers! I used to work as a transcriptionist in a legal office and know legal syntax can get pretty complicated. Right now I'm doing preliminary review on an ebook, and I'm running into all kinds of misplaced modifiers. Thank you for the read, comment, and vote. --Blessings!

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 years ago from Beautiful South

        Marie, Thanks for the review because I can use all the help I can get. In my line of work we see lots of these types of errors. We have to correct trucks that pay taxes, cities that organize marches, and lunches that that skip children, just to name a few. We have to be extra careful how we rearrange anything and correct punctuation because we can change the legal meaning along with the grammar. In a case where correcting the grammar might change the legal meaning, we have to leave it uncorrected. Then if there is any question, the lawyers get to fight it out in court. Voted up++

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        We get lazy, Missirupp, and that includes me!

        Yes, Brian, you got it right!

        Thank you both for the reads and comments. Writing this was good review for me. I hope to see fewer misplaced phrases by hub writers in the future.

        Blessings!

      • B. Leekley profile image

        Brian Leekley 

        4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        Glad to be reminded about participles and participial phrases. Here is what I think I've learned:

        Gerund phrase: *Washing cars* is hard work.

        Participial phrase: The man *washing cars* is tired.

      • profile image

        missirupp 

        4 years ago

        Thanks for the review. I'll be watching my writing.

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Even an English major needs to review. When helping others with their writing, I had often referred to participial phrases as gerund phrases. Participles modify. Gerunds work as nouns.

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