When you open an English grammar book written in Japanese, you’d be puzzled or even chuckle to find Japanese translation of dangling participle – 懸垂分詞, which literally means ‘chinning exercise’ or ‘chin-up’ particle. It shows ‘Lying in my bed, everything seemed so different’ as an example.

I don’t know who put ‘chin-up participle’ to dangling particle as its Japanese counterpart. At least it was named this way by an English language scholar(s) at the dawn of civilization and enlightment in Meiji era (1868 – 1911).

However, I feel somewhat foreign about the naming of ‘dangling participle’ per se in comparison with present / past participle. Why was it defined as “Dangling participle”?

Yes, it’s a custom, consensus, and it's the rule that you can not argue about. But I feel same awkwardness as I feel with ‘chinning exercise participle.” I thought there would have been easier and more understandable choices of the terminology than Dangling, for instances, independent, disconnected, isolated, bipolar, parallel participle, you can name it.

What was the origin of “Dangling participle,” and why was it named this way?


Book links found at the ngrams for dangling participle show that incidence of the term in printed literature was insignificant before 1917. Indeed, google books shows no occurrences of "dangling participle" in books printed from 1800 through 1916. However, Efficient composition: a college rhetoric, by Arthur Huntington Nason, 1917, shows numerous instances of the term. On page 110 Nason refers to "a freshman theme on Emphasis" as the source of the paragraph at the top of page 111, a paragraph he then proceeds to revise three times, for "emphasis", "repetition", and "sound". One speculates the term "dangling participle" fled heedless from that unknown freshman's pen and via Nason's opus then blossomed in hundreds of American high school and college grammar books in the following decade.

  • This is the exact information I was looking for, except the question, whether other options than “Dangling” existed or not before (or after) its emergence. Given information, I am impressed by the fact that Japanese scholars of English language imported the brand new terminology of English grammar, ‘dangling’ as early as in the late 19 century into Japan, though their translation; “chinning exercise” which connotes a gimnastic activity doesn’t seem to portray the real function of dangling participle. – Yoichi Oishi Jul 28 '12 at 21:38

A "dangling participle" is also known as a "dangling modifier" or simply a "dangler" by different people.

On the contrary, I find the term very apt because the name "dangling" was meant to point out how it doesn't connect with what it is supposed to.

For the Japanese translation though, I don't know much about that language to make a guess why the Meiji scholars named it that way.

I suppose it's because, technically, a "dangler" isn't a grammatical unit by itself and it's just a common mistake that people make. So you can still call it an "+ing clause" or by the other standard grammar terms, and then just add the description that it's "unclear" what it's modifying.

  • As a retail marketing jargon, we used the word dangler to a small plastic POP pending down from or swinging on the shelf. That’s only I can associate ‘dangling’ with an item with limited stock of English vocabulary. – Yoichi Oishi Jul 28 '12 at 5:38
  • 1
    I see. I edited my answer a bit because I don't want to confuse you about dangling and misplaced modifiers. They're actually different – Cool Elf Jul 28 '12 at 5:44

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