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?

Remembrance of things . . .

Has something “passed” you by? Was that in the “past”? Although it sounds the same as “passed,” “past” is not a form of the verb “pass,” and these two words are used in different situations.

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The verb “pass” takes “passed” as its past-tense and past-participle forms:
Present tense: Please pass the turnips. And pass the pepper, too.
Past tense: The children were so eager to see the lions that they passed right by the monkey house.
Past participle: The earnest intern, passed over for a permanent position, decided to start her own business.

However, “past” is much more flexible: It can be a noun, an adjective, an adverb or a preposition.
Noun: We’re thankful the unpleasantness is all in the past now.
Adjective: The past tense of the verb “sing” is “sang.”
Adverb: We were sitting here as the speeding garbage truck hurtled past.
Preposition: Nothing gets past us!

In the mood for a subjunctive

Grammatically, the subjunctive is a verb mood, not a verb tense. Most sentences use the indicative mood; the subjunctive in English has fairly restricted uses. Often, subjunctive forms don’t look any different and mostly you’ll know which form to use because it “sounds right.” But there are a few places where people run into problems.

Here’s when to use the subjunctive:

1. In subordinate clauses for demands, suggestions and necessities. These are generally straightforward.
· The teacher suggested that Johnny pay more attention to his use of apostrophes.
· Oda Mae Brown asked that no one speak during the seance.
· It is crucial that everyone refrain from getting water near the witch.

2. In subordinate clauses for expressions of wishing, hoping, etc., where what you are wishing for probably isn’t so. This is the “Wish you were here” construction.
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· We wish they wouldn’t chew with their mouths open.
· She hoped that her brother knew better than to lick a frozen flagpole.

3. In “Let …” constructions, also called the “hortatory subjunctive.” This is the “Let them eat cake” construction.
· Bubba fixes birdhouses for a living; let him fix yours.

4. In sentences when you are talking about something contrary to fact. This is the “If I were you” construction, and is where things can get tricky.

Past tense
Use the “had ___” form of the main verb, and the “would have ___” form of the secondary verb.
· If Cedric had bought a Porsche (but he didn’t), we would have known he was having a midlife crisis.

Present tense
Use “were” or the “were ___-ing” form of the main verb, and “would ___” for the secondary verb.
· If Mindy were working tonight (but she’s not), she would be mad about the cookie crumbs we left all over her desk.
· Suppose Mindy were here (but she’s not) — what would she say about the mess we’ve made?

Future tense
This is where things get tricky, because you want to distinguish between things that might happen and things that won’t.
· If Sylvester catches the mouse (possible), he will get a treat.
· If Sylvester were to catch the mouse (but he won’t because he sleeps all day), he would get a treat.

Be careful to distinguish a subjunctive from a conditional.
· The bill would make it illegal to smoke indoors. (it hasn’t passed yet)
· If the bill becomes law (it might), smoking will be banned indoors.
· If the bill were to become law (it won’t, because the governor has promised to veto it), indoor smoking would be banned.

Passive voice

What the passive voice is and when to use it.
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Attain and obtain

Both of these words are associated with acquisition, but they differ in what they emphasize.
gumballs

 

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Compose and comprise

Your grammatical knowledge should include when to use “compose” and when (or when not) to use “comprise.”
composition

 

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Rise, arise and raise

Rise, arise and raise: These three words sound similar but aren’t interchangeable.

 

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Wake up! I’m awake!

All of the forms for not-being-sleeping can seem confusing. We’ll clear them up.
Wake up and smell the coffee!

 

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Are you done or are you finished?

Are there times when you need to use “done” and times when you should say “finished” instead?
 
This cake is done.

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Irregular verbs

When verbs take odd turns in the past tense.

 

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