Is the sentence below grammatically correct?

I repeatedly punched his face until I passed out, my arms sliced a few times by his blade."

I know what participial phrases are; I read about them here. I know how they describe a noun.

For instance:

Watching the TV, I heard a sudden yelling from my mom forcing me to turn off the TV.

Here, the sentence has two participle phrases (both are verb-ing modifiers) modifying different nouns: the first one is "watching the TV," which tells us what the subject is doing; and "forcing me to turn off the TV," which describes what the mom was doing. And I also know that "yelling" is just a gerund and not a participle phrase.

I also know when to use a comma on sentences with the participle phrase showing at the end of a sentence.

My mom screamed when she saw her, terrified.

Here, the mom is the one being modified by the verb-ed modifier, or generally the participial phrase, not the person the mom was scared at. But if a comma wouldn't be there, the sentence would be interpreted as the subject's mother screaming when she saw her being terrified as well, which is a bit weird and absurd.

And I know the concept of dangling participial phrases too.

Clenching my fists, my brother got scared of me.

The sentence would mean that the brother is the one that clenches his fists, which is clearly not the idea the writer wanted to show.

So to avoid this, the writer must put the noun as close to the participle phrase as possible.

Clenching my fists, I saw my brother getting scared of me.

Here, the phrase is much more closer to the subject and the sentences is much more understandable and logical.

Now, for my question, I haven't found any examples like the one above on the internet at all.

I'm really struggling with these kinds of sentences right now. It doesn't have dangling participial phrases, and it is also punctuated correctly for the readers to understand, but I can't seem to find any sentence on the internet similar to this.

To make my question clearer, here's another sentence:

I walked toward the coffin, the skies portraying my emotions—gloomy, depressed and sullen.

Here, "the skies" is clearly being described by the participial phrase, "the skies portraying my emotions—gloomy, depressed and sullen." And there are dangling participial phrases here. So . . . are these sentences correct?

Are these sentences—with a structure like this one: comma + noun + participial phrase—correct?

  • Yes, I read that before. But it they don't have a sentence that is similar to that.
    – Jeloh Simo
    Apr 19, 2018 at 15:20
  • Wow, the downvoter strikes again, and swiftly too. All in the name of "scope" and "standards". What an encouraging and respectful way to help someone who is asking for help. To the downvoter please explain why the question is not useful.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 20, 2018 at 7:50
  • I'll edit it. XD
    – Jeloh Simo
    Apr 20, 2018 at 12:12
  • 1
    I don't think the question needs to be edited further. I thought you were confused as to how to write participial phrases, but your understanding is really quite sophisticated. I mean, well done, you know much more about PP than your average native speaker. Your example sentences are all grammatical if that is of some comfort.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 21, 2018 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


You are confusing a dangling participle with a participle used in an absolute construction. In a far more frequent, non-absolute construction, a participial phrase wants to attach itself to the first semantically available element and stay there; in an absolute construction, it isn’t even looking. First, a look at how participles are supposed to function:

Turning the corner, he glanced back and saw that Mario was about thirty yards behind. Just around the corner was a shop selling cigarettes and tobacco. Stanislaw was exactly where Cam expected him to be, standing outside the shop, looking in the window. — Ken Follett, Edge of Eternity: Book Three of The Century Trilogy, 2014.

While Mario might have just turned a corner further away, the reader understands that he, not Mario, was the one doing the turning, just as the shop is doing the selling and Stanislaw is doing the standing and looking. Even though shop is adjacent to looking in the window, it is not semantically available because a shop is incapable of sight and if it were, it would still be difficult to look into its own window. The reader knows to parse looking in the window and standing outside the shop in parallel to describe Stanislaw’s location.


Some published authors, however, are perfectly happy sending a participle on a vain search for that semantically available element:

Turning the corner, the black shawl wrapped around her neck while her rough hands stiffened on either side of her body, weighed down by two immense packages. — Samuel Rawet, The Prophet & Other Stories, 1998.

Turning the corner, the building came into view. The doorman was in his brown uniform, its brass buttons shining. — Richard H. Casebier, The Better Man, 2008.

Turning the corner, a massive stone house looks like it may have been a small church. — Danny Bernstein, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina, 2013.

Black shawls, buildings, or massive stone houses can’t turn corners, yet grammatically, these writers have forced them to. Someone turned a corner wearing the shawl or to see the building or house, but that person is nowhere in the sentence. The first example is particularly obnoxious because after the initial participle fails to attach to scarf, readers are likely to parse wrapped as a participle as well, then, arriving at the end of the sentence, find no independent clause. Otherwise, you have a killer black shawl trying to strangle hapless women on the street. All because the initial participle floats in the air, unable to attach semantically to any noun in the sentence.


In an absolute construction, this floating in space is intended. It describes how, and sometimes when or why, the entire action or state in an independent clause occurs — without attaching to any specific element. A participle in an absolute construction always has a subject.

Earlier grammars termed this construction a nominative absolute, ‘nominative’ because of the required subject and because similar constructions in ancient languages were cast in different cases: Latin (ablative), Greek (genitive), and Sanskrit (locative). The term absolute comes directly from Latin absolūtum ‘loosened, separated from’.

The ThoughtCo. article on absolutes give numerous examples, five of which are cited here:

Roy circles the bases like a Mississippi steamboat, lights lit, flags fluttering, whistle banging, coming round the bend.— Bernard Malamud, The Natural, 1952.

The first three participles — lit, fluttering, banging — do not modify steamboat, but unfold the simile of the independent clause. They describe how Roy was circling the bases. The last participial phrase, however, which has no subject, does modify steamboat, effectively framing the other three phrases embedded within the simile like a Mississippi steamboat coming around the bend.

Harry froze, his cut finger slipping on the jagged edge of the mirror again. — J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007.

When Johnson Meechum came up the three steps of his purple double-wide trailer and opened the front door, his wife, Mabel, was waiting for him, her thin hands clenched on her hips, her tinted hair standing from her scalp in a tiny blue cloud. — Harry Crews, Celebration, 1998.

Still he came on, shoulders hunched, face twisted, wringing his hands, looking more like an old woman at a wake than an infantry combat soldier. — James Jones, The Thin Red Line, 1962.

Two middle-aged men with jogging disease lumber past me, their faces purple, their bellies slopping, their running shoes huge and costly. — Joe Bennett, Mustn't Grumble, 2006.

These examples describe a person as they perform a particular action, or in Harry Potter's case, as he does nothing at all. Had the authors of these sentences wished to use a more mundane construction, they could have inserted the preposition with before the participial phrases, but that would have a completely different effect.


You may have noticed that in the last example, their faces purple has no verb. Linking verbs like be or become are often omitted in absolute constructions:

'Yes, my King,' Peritus said, his face now a blank, his thoughts hidden. — John Gwynne, Malice, 426, 2012.

The dance at an end, the goat resumes his place on the pedestal, and the ladies who have been looking on approach the Duchess with curtsies and reverences, and then take her away. — Henry Wysham Lanier, The Golden Book Magazine vol. 7-8 (1928), 202.

An hour later, the battle over, a freezing Scott and the last two dogs were hauled up. — Ranulph Fiennes, The Ranulph Fiennes Collection: Captain Scott, 2013.

The verb is explicit, however, in the most famous — and most controversial — nominative absolute in the English language: the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The absolute construction here suggests a necessary and prior condition under which the action of the main clause is to take place, i.e., a ‘why’ if you will, but what this semantic relationship entails in this particular “floating” participial construction will continue to be debated.

  • Thank you so much for answering. Not only did you answer my question, but you also gave me an explanation between the difference of dangling participle phrases and absolute construction. But I'm still a bit confused as to when is the perfect time to use absolutes instead without being accused of using dangling participial phrases. Not only that, you also also answered one of my questions regarding the verbless construction. Now I know that they're grammatically correct thanks to you. But I still have one doubt: isn't "wrapped" a verb that explains what the shawl was doing (personification)?
    – Jeloh Simo
    Apr 24, 2018 at 3:11
  • @JelohSimo: Just remember a nom. abs. always has a subject. As for the shawl, compared to many other languages, English isn't overly concerned with agency. In German, for instance, a reflexive would be required: the shawl wrapped itself around her neck, an option in English as well, but not required. The alternative is that there is really no ind. clause and it's a participle.
    – KarlG
    Apr 24, 2018 at 11:28
  • So the last sentence in my question is grammatically inorrect, right? Since the phrase didn't tell how/why/when the subject was walking toward the coffin.
    – Jeloh Simo
    Apr 25, 2018 at 1:56
  • incorrect Sorry for the misspelling.
    – Jeloh Simo
    Apr 25, 2018 at 1:57

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