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Not sure if I'm phrasing this right, but I will try (I hope it's not a dumb question). If you're being strict with grammar, everything can be a dangling participle if there's no subject directly after the modifier? Then it's up to the reader to decide if this is an adverbial phrase?

Here's an example:

Statistically speaking/speaking statistically, you have a greater chance of getting hit by a car than crashing in a plane.

The "statistically speaking" part could be interpreted as:

You are statistically speaking that you have a greater chance of getting hit by a car than crashing in a plane.

Even though, actually

I'm speaking statistically about the different chances you have of getting hit by a car compared to crashing in a plane.

if we remove the "you" or any sort of subject and put in a "there's a greater chance that..." instead, now we have a situation where things speak because of the omission.

???

I must be over-analyzing this... of course, one could say the subject is omitted, but one could say this for every dangling participle out there and say that it's just an ellipsis... -_-'

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    "Statistically speaking" does not mean "I'm statistically speaking" or "I'm speaking statistically". It's an adverb phrase whose meaning is identical to "statistically" or "according to statistics". There is no omitted subject. – Juhasz Feb 24 '20 at 16:44
  • Yeah, that's what you'd think, but what about sentences like "Hopefully, everyone is making it to the top of the mountain" -- who is hopeful? They? I? You could argue that this is being used adverbially (it is one word, after all) and we know that I am the one who is hopeful. How do you explain that? Or: "Speaking of sleep, he dozed off" -- Was he speaking about sleep? What if we were chatting, and he fell asleep? What if he spoke instead, and we just listened? What matters is where do you draw the line? Is there a line? Or is it all just "go ahead and guess the meaning!" type of scenario? – Lucidity of Power Feb 25 '20 at 9:19
  • I didn't mean to suggest that your question wasn't valid, just that the example could be improved. "Speaking of sleeping" is a better example; it could definitely be ambiguous. The issue with "hopefully" is well-covered here and elsewhere. See, for example: english.stackexchange.com/questions/1521/…. If you want to save a click, you can go straight here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disjunct_%28linguistics%29 – Juhasz Feb 25 '20 at 17:12
  • Yes, I’m aware of the “hopefully” issue, since it can modify multiple things. The only reason I used it was to give an example of the ambiguity that other examples possess. There are so many of these adverbial phrases, I’m hoping someone knows something. Thanks for your input, though. – Lucidity of Power Feb 26 '20 at 8:10
  • There are many types of introductory elements. 'Statistically speaking' is either domain-specifying or more usually (and as used here) essentially modal, justifying (the statement in the matrix sentence). Many introductory elements do not attach to the subject of the sentence but rather modify or frame the whole sentence. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 13 '20 at 16:54
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The answer to the question in the title is “no”.

No, not all introductory phrases are dangling participles when they are not immediately followed by the subject.

Having studied the subject for many years, some day John will write the definite treatise.

Properly modifying the subject “John”, surely the introductory phrase “Having studied the subject for many years” is not a dangling modifier. (See what I did here?)

But when I see your example, it occurs to me that you may be asking a different question.

Generally, dangling modifiers are nominal phrases or adjective phrases that are meant to modify someone or something other than the subject of the sentence.

Adverbial phrases, on the other hand, don’t modify the subject, but the whole sentence. Even if the adverbial phrase is verb-based (such as “hopefully”), there is no grammatical need for the implied subject of that verb to be the subject of the sentence.

Hopefully the plane won’t crash.

is perfectly fine, and doesn’t necessarily anthropomorphise the plane: “hopefully” does not imply that the plane is hoping; it only implies that someone is hoping, most likely the speaker, possibly along with others.

So what about present participles (“-ing forms” not used as a noun)?

Walking down Main Street, the trees were beautiful. Reaching the station, the sun came out.

Those are Wikipedia’s examples of dangling modifiers. Present participles-based phrases are usually parsed as adjective phrases, so they should modify the subject. When they don’t, as in Wikipedia’s examples, they are dangling modifiers.

Statistically speaking, planes crash once every million miles flown.

This is also a present participle-based phrase that doesn’t modify the subject “planes”. So if you parse it as an adjective phrase, it is a dangling modifier.

And yet, this example feels less wrong than the Wikipedia examples. As does yours starting with the same introductory phrase.

I guess the real question is: Can such a present participle be grammatically parsed as an adverb (similar to “hopefully”), even though it doesn’t end in “-ly”?

If the (pedantic) answer is “no, that’s not grammatical”, as it very well could be, then “statistically speaking” really is a dangling modifier when the subject of the main sentence isn’t the person making the statistical claim.

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  • I feel that this example is a bit unfair: "Having studied the subject for many years, some day John will write the definite treatise." The reason is that "some day" is adverbial and you have a main subject with a main verb in there. Rewrite it to "Having studied the subject for many years, the definite treatise will be written by John some day" and out of nowhere you've got a grammar problem. I want to make sure that before I select this as the answer that there's no other interpretation of the question, btw. – Lucidity of Power Mar 15 '20 at 20:18
  • You asked the question in the title “Are all introductory phrases dangling participles if the subject is not directly after them?” I read “all” and “directly after” in that question, so I answer no, which I back up with that counter-example. If you asked “Do all affirmative sentences in English start with the subject?” the answer would be equally no. “Any day now, John will do some work.” is a valid counter-example, even though that sentence can be rearranged as “John will do some work any day now.” – Adhemar Mar 16 '20 at 0:36
  • Maybe you meant to ask “Are all introductory phrases dangling participles when they describe an action done by an omitted actor which is different from the subject of the main sentence?” and used “subject directly after the introductory phrase” as a proxy for “subject of the main sentence”. Pointing out that this proxy doesn’t always work, seems a valid point. – Adhemar Mar 16 '20 at 0:37
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    • Q: Are all introductory phrases dangling participles when they describe an action done by an omitted actor which is different from the subject of the main sentence? A: No. Adverbial introductory phrases such as “hopefully” modify the whole sentence rather than the subject. Therefor actions described by adverbial introductory phrases may be done by implicit actors different from the subject. Those adverbial introductory phrases are not dangling modifiers. – Adhemar Mar 16 '20 at 15:53
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    • Q: So what about present participle-based phrases? The answer to this question depends on whether you accept that these present participle may grammatically be parsed as adverbs, even they don’t end in “-ly”. – Adhemar Mar 16 '20 at 15:53

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