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I think this sentence is standard English:

1A. John swung his arm wildly, hitting Jane in the head.

And it approximately means:

1B John swung his arm wildly and he hit Jane in the head.


Then, I saw this sentence here:

2A. A neighbor’s daughter had been abducted, bringing an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family.*

I attempted to reapply my analysis method of the first sentence here, and came up with this approximate interpretation:

2B. A neighbor’s daughter had been abducted, and she [the neighbor's daughter] brought an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family.

It sounds weird though. Could my analysis be defective? Or is the sentence poorly written—so would it be better like this?

2C. A neighbor’s daughter had been abducted, which brought an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family.

  • Your latter example contains a dangling participle and is really not a very well-formed sentence to begin with. “A neighbo[u]r’s daughter had been abducted, bringing an epidemic of kidnappings with reach of her own family” does exactly imply that the kidnapped daughter had brought this epidemic within their reach. I would also say that ‘bring within reach of’ is not a good choice of words, since that phrase implies desirability. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 16 '13 at 11:52
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[This answer expands on the answers and discussion of TrevorD and Janus Bahs Jacquet.]

The OP's question seems to result from the false premise that all present participle phrases can be expanded the same way. This is not so. The fact that,

John swung his arm wildly, hitting Jane in the head.

can be expanded to

John swung his arm wildly and he hit Jane in the head.

does not mean that this is the way all such phrases can be expanded.

The OP is right that the second participial phrase (bringing an epidemic of kidnappings) can be expanded into a relative clause beginning which brought, that comments on the whole of the main clause.

Some more examples of the various ways to expand a participial phrase:

She arrived late, bringing her children with her.

She arrived late, and she brought her children with her.


She believed the weather forecast, bringing an umbrella instead of sunglasses.

She believed the weather forecast, with the result that she brought an umbrella instead of sunglasses.


Three more victims died in hospital, bringing the death toll to 23.

Three more victims died in hospital, which (has) brought the death toll to 23.

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In your two statements, the words "hitting" and "bringing" refer to the whole of the previous clause: effectively, they describe the result of the previous clause:

John swung his arm wildly, resulting in Jane being hit in the head.
A neighbor’s daughter had been abducted, resulting in an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family.

In both cases you could replace "resulting in" by "which resulted in".

Your analysis is incorrect because the two initial clauses are not comparable:

  1. The first example is written in the active sense. It was John who did the swinging, so it was him who also did the hitting.
  2. The second example is written in the passive sense. The daughter was abducted: she did not do the abducting. It was not her that "brought an epidemic of kidnappings": it was her abduction (by a person unknown) that "brought an epidemic of kidnappings".

Additionally, the two forms of your first example have subtly different meanings:

  • John swung his arm wildly, hitting Jane in the head.
    This implies that the hitting may have been accidental as a result of swinging his arm.
  • John swung his arm wildly and he hit Jane in the head.
    This suggests that the hitting was intentional, and may have been a separate act from the swinging.
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  • ‘Hitting’ and ‘bringing’ do not refer back to the whole of the previous clause—they are participles, not pronouns, and as such do not refer back to anything. The subject in a participial clause is inherited from the clause the participial clause attaches to—in this case ‘John’ and ‘a neighbor’s daughter’, respectively. It does not matter whether that clause is in the active or passive voice. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 16 '13 at 12:00
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    Are you seriously suggesting that the second example means that the daughter brought the "epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family"? – TrevorD Jul 16 '13 at 14:01
  • As it stands, yes. That is why it is not a well-written sentence. Obviously, that is not what it is intended to say, but that it what it grammatically says. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 16 '13 at 14:06
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I beg to differ. (P.S. Your profile doesn't indicate where you are from nor which 'variation' of English you are referring to: US, British, Indian, Antipodean, ...?) – TrevorD Jul 16 '13 at 14:09
  • @JanusBahsJacquet So, "A neighbor’s daughter had been abducted, bringing an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family" is acceptable in BE but not acceptable in other types of English ? – stinn Jul 18 '13 at 4:29
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There is a sentence here in post #6 by a native speaker http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2890236

"The many accidents that had happened at the intersection prompted an investigation into the traffic-light system there, looking for factors that may have negatively affected drivers."

The author states that "the subject of "looking for" is an investigation", which is not the subject of the main sentence.

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Your analysis is completely correct. The participial clause often found attached to the end of a main (or relative) clause implies that the action it describes takes place simultaneously or as a direct result of the action described in the verb in the main clause. A participle is an adjectival form, and it modifies some kind of nominal phrase. If no overt nominal phrase is present in the participial clause, the participle modifies the subject of the main clause it attaches to. In other words, it is functionally identical to simply having the subject of the main clause govern two verbs.

This means that these two sets of sentences are functionally identical:

John swung his arms wildly, hitting Jane in the head
John swung his arms wildly and hit Jane in the head

 

A neighbour’s daughter had been abducted, bringing an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family
A neighbour’s daughter had been abducted and brought an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family

The former is quite obviously fine (the only possible difference is, as Trevor pointed out, that having two finite verbs opens up the possibility that John hit Jane deliberately in the head, or that he did so as an action separate from wildly swinging his arms); but the latter does not work.

That is because in the latter pair, the participle in the participial clause is dangling: it does not modify the subject of the main clause as it’s supposed to. The sentence is, as you surmise, poorly written. Your own rewriting of it using ‘which’ is clearer and better.

 

Another way to test if a participle is dangling or not is to replace the participial phrase with a purely adjectival phrase. It should still be clear which nominal phrase the adjective in the adjectival phrase modifies, otherwise it is a dangling modifier (of which a dangling participle is a subtype):

John swung his arms wildly, angry at nothing in particular
A neighbour’s daughter had been abducted, scared of everything

In the latter example here, it is clear that ‘scared’ modifies the neighbour’s daughter—similarly, ‘bringing’ in the original sentence modifies the neighbour’s daughter.

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