On Dangling Participles


I have a friend who writes beautiful.

I didn’t say “beautifully” because I’m not at all sure if the commas, semi-colons, hyphens, and ellipses in every piece she writes are precisely where Messrs. Strunk & White would prefer them to be, if they should be there at all or if there should be more or less of them.

I’m also not entirely sure if every singular subject of hers is married to a singular verb or every plural subject to a plural verb, nor am I certain whether every sentence expresses a complete thought or if, God forbid, some qualify as a dreaded sentence fragment or, worse yet, a run-on.

I’m even less certain whether any of her prepositions, modifiers or participles are dangling or misplaced (in part, because I have no idea what some of those words mean!?!), whether her tenses always match up precisely or whether, from time to time, her parallelism is faulty and/or her infinitives split.

I’m also not qualified to say whether her pronouns or tenses shift on occasion (they likely do!), whether her verb endings are as precise as they might be or, more generally, whether, here or there, she could have conveyed a thought a little more succinctly, less “passively” or using a different word or phrase.

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me (and I doubt it would her) if some or all of these grammatical peculiarities found their way into her work, in part, because like musicians who play by ear, writers who write by heart seldom concern themselves with whether the finished product neatly conforms to the traditional stylistic rules of their craft.

They’re far more interested in its intangibles and, where those are concerned, I know these things about my friend’s writing with absolute certainty: Her words touch hearts – profoundly. They are a source of encouragement and strength to the weary and a warm blanket of reassurance to those questioning their adequacy.

They inspire hope and are soul-building.  They let others know they’re not alone in their feelings of guilt and shame – however misplaced – and that they are worthy and valued for who they are . . . where they are.  They are an outstretched hand to those who have stumbled and a desperately needed embrace for those who feel very much alone.

They also help others see and react to the world at large and, as importantly, to the person who greets them in the morning mirror with greater awareness, sensitivity, love, compassion, and grace.  They have a way of calming the crazy, bringing comfort to those in despair, and serving as a beacon of light to those battling the darkness.

I know because, at one time or another, they have been all of these things to me and so much more.  I know because of all the tears (of joy, of recognition, of being revealed, etc.) I’ve unabashedly shed in reading them and all the spontaneous heart smiles they have generated. Very few things have that impact on me, but beautiful does and I know beauty when I read it.

And I know I’m not alone.  In fact, don’t ask me how I know this, but of the tens of thousands of “comments” my friend’s writings generated in 2015, 2,168 readers said simply: “Beautiful”!  Imagine that – “beauty” in spite of a few misplaced modifiers, a dollop of dangling participles and a stray comma here or there.

That’s what happens when your heart takes pen in hand and pours itself onto the page. And for that (and you), my friend, I and countless others are eternally grateful.


4 thoughts on “On Dangling Participles

  1. Yes! All of this for Rachel Macy Stafford’s beautiful words! Grammer is not my gift. I don’t know what half the things you mentioned in your opening paragraphs are. In high school I got D’s on my papers due to misspelled words and grammarical errors. Content didn’t matter. I didn’t know I could write until I went to college. That is why this was anong my favorite line’s of yours, “…because like musicians who play by ear, writers who write by heart seldom concern themselves with whether the finished product neatly conforms to the traditional stylistic rules of their craft.” Yes! That! Thankful for both of you sharing your words of love and encouragement with our world. ~Janean

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