I solved a grammar exam recently, and one question got me wondering.

The answer key says that

Stepping inside the church, the large columns supporting the ceiling immediately catch your eye.

is wrong because it contains a dangling participle.

I googled this for an hour, and it seems to me that people are pretty much divided on this.

Some links to people who say not all dangling participles are grammatically wrong:

by Asya Pereltsvaig 1
by Geoffrey K. Pullum 2
by Geoffrey K. Pullum 3

Do you think dangling participles are grammatically wrong, or do you think it depends on the sentence?

And IF you think Geoffrey K. Pullum and Asya Pereltsvaig are right, can you tell me what you think of the sentence I included?

  • 1
    To me, it doesn't even seem that much ambiguous - It doesn't feel like "the large columns supporting the ceiling" are "stepping inside the church" Dec 12, 2019 at 3:55
  • 2
    It is a rubbish sentence whose dangling participle does the disservice to the reader of leading him to consider, if only briefly, that the columns are the ones stepping into the church. This is not necessarily grammatically incorrect as a poorly written sentence. Dec 12, 2019 at 4:19
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the OP has done his/her research and should include the rationale for supporting or opposing the grammaticality of the sentence in question--an effort which anyway may be in vain, given that grammaticality and good sentence writing are not the same thing. Dec 12, 2019 at 4:21
  • 1
    Like much of the English language, use of dangling participles is forbidden according to grammar books but it's part of the language as used in practice. It's up to you to decide whether that makes it right or wrong . Dec 12, 2019 at 5:09
  • 1
    Oxford grammar has this to say categorically: "The participle should always describe an action performed by the subject of the main part of the sentence." and "Sometimes writers forget this rule and begin a sentence with a participle that doesn’t refer to the subject of their sentence. They then end up with what’s known as a dangling participle, as in this grammatically incorrect statement: "{Travelling} to Finland, {the weather} got colder and colder." Travelling (participle); the weather (subject). lexico.com/grammar/dangling-participles
    – Kris
    Dec 12, 2019 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


Writers, especially in fiction, will always seek to bend or break grammar rules. As your sources mention, there are plenty of examples of dangling participles in classic and famous literature.

That said, your primary goal as a writer should always be clarity. Dangling participles are bound to create confusion for some, if not all, of your readers.

Whenever possible, a participle should have a clear subject that it is describing. In your example sentence, the reader doesn't know who or what is stepping inside the church. It could and should be revised to be more precise.

  • As the first two authors state, dangling participles are used heavily in contexts where the referent is obvious, as it is in the example. The alternative is repeating "you" redundantly: "As you step into the church, the large columns supporting the ceiling immediately catch your eye."
    – Barmar
    Dec 12, 2019 at 4:21

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