What is a participle, anyway?

You may have heard of “dangling participles,” but knowing that you should avoid those doesn’t much help if you’re not sure what a participle is to begin with. So here’s a quick guide:
A participle is basically a verb that works as an adjective. In other words, it looks like a verb, but modifies a noun.

688484_baseballPresent participles end in “-ing”: a screaming line drive, a winning team

Past participles usually end in “-ed”: a dropped ball, a grilled hot dog
But participles for irregular verbs have other forms: The shortstop backed up the ball overthrown at third.

Participles can be part of a whole phrase: Butler, sliding into home face-first, got dirt all over his uniform.

They may occur with auxiliary verbs: Having smashed the ball over the left-field fence, Rodriguez hustled around the bases.

Dangling participles
Participles “dangle” when they are not next to the noun they are intended to modify. Sometimes the meaning of the sentence is clear anyway, but other times the sentence winds up a muddle:

Hurling strikes all night long, the leadoff batter in the eighth walked.
Here, it’s not the batter who was hurling strikes, it’s the pitcher. But the way this sentence is put together, the participial phrase is modifying “batter.”

Since joining the Royals as a rookie, they have turned their record around.
Here, we assume a player did the joining, not the team, but “they” is what’s being modified.

The way to avoid danglers is to make sure that whatever the participle refers to is the subject of the main clause. Usually this will be the first noun in the main clause.

Next up: What is a gerund, anyway?