I read, in Arthur Bloch's hilarious "Murphy's Law", the following corollary to Murphy's Law:

Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.

Is that grammatical? Does the clause before the comma serve the purpose of an adjective (of things)? If it indeed acts like an adjective, does it need to be hyphenated?

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    It is perfectly normal to elide the word "when" as in "(When) left to themselves". And no, hyphens are not needed. It is an adjectival clause but not a pre-positioned adjective, as in "Red-hot things are dangerous". – WS2 Apr 23 '17 at 20:27

Either form is acceptable, but since "left to themselves" is a subordinate clause, you don't need to use "when."

Consider this restructuring that makes the clause a parenthetical modifier:

Things, left to themselves, tend to go from bad to worse.

Also consider this example sentence used in The Elements of Style by Strunk & White:

Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children.

It has a similar structure to your proposed sentence. The author could have chosen to write "While walking slowly..." or "When walking," but a modifier of that sort is not necessary.

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