SAMPLE 1: “Determined to kill, maim and kidnap for ransom, four persons in their early 20s, were on Tuesday said to have been beheaded in Rumuji, Emohua Local Government Area, LGA, as two rival cult groups, Deygbam and Icelanders, allegedly clashed in unending supremacy war in the locality.”(Devil in the Details, Sunday Vanguard, 28 April, 2019)
The single-sentence excerpt begins with the word determined. This word (determined) is a participle, and the entire stretch “Determined to kill, maim and kidnap for ransom…” is known as participial phrase. Please note that the participial phrase ending with the word ransom is immediately followed by the noun phrase: “four persons in their early 20s.” Without the benefit of verbal economy, what the participial phrase means is this:” xyz is/was determined to kill, maim and kidnap.” As a structural principle, whatever noun or noun phrase that follows the participial phrase directly is the subject of the phrase. In other words, that noun or noun phrase is the xyz that is/was determined to kill…
The next logical question is: Can we say the “four persons in their early 20s” are the ones who are/were “determined to kill, maim and kidnap for ransom”? Let us note that the “four persons in their early 20s” are not the ones “determined to kill, maim and kidnap for ransom.” But the problem is that the four persons are wrongly positioned in the structure, giving room for misleading interpretation. The appropriate phrase that should follow the participial phrase is: “two rival cult groups, Deygbam and Icelander.” This is because these cult groups are the ones determined to kill, maim and kidnap for ransom.
No doubt, this is what the reporter means but he has allowed his limited grammar to twist his meaning. The problem of this structure is that of a hanging/dangling/unrelated participle: a case in which the noun/noun phrase following the participial phrase directly bears no relevance to the participial phrase.
Let’s now attempt to restructure the sentence and allow the appropriate noun/noun phrase to follow the participial phrase directly: “Determined to kill, maim and kidnap for ransom, two rival cult groups, Deygbam and Icelanders, beheaded four persons in their early 20s…” It should be obvious now that the phrase “two rival cult groups, Deygbam and Icelanders” is directly related to the participle determined. This new structure has solved the problem of hanging/dangling/unrelated participle.
Actually, any one participle (present or past participle) can be used to illustrate how participial phrases function. Take the following expression: “Giving details…” This expression, as an opening part of a sentence, means: “When he/she was/is giving details…” or “As he/she was/is giving details…” or “While he/she was/is giving details…” It is important that at the end of that phrase/ expression, the first piece of information that must be given is the identity of the person that is giving details. Any other piece of information will be misleading.
Now let’s build that phrase into a sentence: “Giving details of his involvement in the crime, the suspect claimed some policemen were assisting the gang to procure guns.” Please note that the phrase begins with the word giving (which is in fact the keyword) and ends with the word crime. Immediately after the word crime, the identity of the person giving the details is provided. The identity is: the suspect. This is another way of putting it: “When the suspect was giving details…” Actually the word giving in the hypothetical sentence is a participle (an –ing participle) and the phrase in which it occurs is called a participial phrase/expression. Let’s reiterate this: If a word or phrase other than that which identifies the person giving details is offered after the participial phrase, we would have a case of dangling/unrelated/hanging participle.
We may now revisit the hypothetical sentence and allow a word or phrase other than that which identifies the person giving details to come immediately after the participial phrase: “Giving details of his involvement in the crime, the court adjourned till the end of December.” This is an example of hanging participle. Who was giving details of his involvement in the crime? The court? Not at all. For that reason, it is a faulty construction.
Actually, any other present participle can illustrate the use of participial phrases/expressions. Read the following sentences: 1) Speaking on the occasion of the inauguration of the panel, the president urged Nigerians to submit memoranda that would assist the panel to do its work. (Note: Who was speaking? the president) 2) Presenting his controversial book yesterday in Abuja, the former president made denigrating comments about some prominent Nigerians. (Note: Who was presenting his book? the former president) 3) Describing the allegation as false, the Governor presented what he called the correct position. (Note: Who was describing the allegation as false? the Governor) 4) Declaring his intention to join the opposition party, the former Minister complained about lack of internal democracy in his party. (Note: Who was declaring his intention to join the opposition party? the former Minister) 5) Focusing on the social, economic and political sectors of Nigeria, the foreignjournalist criticized the leaders for lack of vision and commitment. (Note: Who was focusing on the social, economic and political sectors of Nigeria? the foreign journalist) 6) Delivering a keynote address at a conference organized by activist journalists, the scholar said that inadequate attention being paid to the acquisition of knowledge was the major problem retarding the growth and development of the country. (Note: Who was delivering a keynote address? the scholar) 7) Insinuating that the chairman was a member of a secret society, a member suggested that he (the chairman) should be probed. (Note: Who was insinuating that the chairman was a member of a secret society? a member) 8) Saying that his client was innocent, the lawyer urged the court to discharge and acquit him. (Note: Who was saying that his client was innocent? the lawyer) 9) Driving at a dangerously high speed, James applied the brakes suddenly when he sighted the cattle. (Note: Who was driving at a dangerously high speed? James) 10) Moving in the direction of the river, the tourists took a tortuously long route to the village. (Note: Who were moving in the direction of the river? the tourists.)