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Ive found a dangling phrases

While walking across the street, the bus hit her.

"While walking across the street" describes clearly the bus in that case making no sense.

But if I change it to:

The bus hit her while walking across the street,

It should be correct, because it stands near the object "her". And a participial phrase can also describe nouns, but it has to be as near as possible to the object it describes. Or is that still wrong?

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    Both examples state that the bus was walking across the street, which is clearly wrong. To correct them, you need to insert she was before walking to make it clear that she was doing the walking . The examples would be correct if you replaced the bus with the man, who becomes the subject of the sentence.. Aug 14, 2022 at 22:42
  • Thanks. So a participial phrase always refers to the subject? Aug 14, 2022 at 22:44
  • I can't think of any exceptions Aug 14, 2022 at 22:45
  • @RonaldSole “We listened to the man singing in the street.” The participial phrase does NOT refer to the subject, which is “we.” Aug 15, 2022 at 0:46
  • The question was about dangling phrases. Aug 15, 2022 at 8:25

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I am not sure that what you are talking about is grammar. When I was in school, which was when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, we called it rhetoric, the art of being clear and persuasive.

A basic rule of English is that modifiers of nouns or pronouns should be as close to the noun modified as possible.

A second rule is that adverbs modifying a verb should precede the verb but follow the subject or come after the the object of the verb.

I quickly crossed the street

or

I crossed the street quickly.

Another basic rule of English is that participles (though formed from a verb) may act as part of a verb phrase, an adjective, or a noun. What role is the "dangling participle" playing.

And a fourth rule is that certain words can be omitted from a subordinate clause if the words are so obvious that no meaning is lost.

So, rhetorically, if you mean that the woman was crossing the street when she was hit by the bus, normal rules of interpreting English suggest that

While crossing the street, the bus hit her

means that the bus was going from one side of the street to the other, an act rare but possible for a bus, but contrary to the intended meaning. If the participle is adjectival and applies to the woman hit, it should be close to "her" rather than "bus."

The bus hit her while crossing the street

is not, however, best analyzed as a participial phrase modifying "her." It is better analyzed as an abbreviated adverbial clause indicating the time of the action indicated by the verb. And adverbs frequently come at the end of a clause.

I think your second version should be intepreted as

The bus hit her while [she was] crossing the street.

Notice that there is no problem with

While she was crossing the street, a bus hit her.

So, although I agree with you that "while crossing the street" is much better at the end of the sentence than at the start, the reason is not that it is an adjectival phrase, but rather that it is an adverbial clause.

EDIT: The comments have indicated a lot of confusion about terms.

A “participle” is an inflected form of a verb that may be used as part of a verb phrase, as an adjective, or, in some cases, as a noun.

A “phrase contains no subject and, except for verb phrases, no complete verb.

A “participial phrase” is a phrase that contains part of a verb, namely just the participle.

A “clause” contains a subject and a complete verb and any necessary complements.

A phrase can act as an adjective. In which case, it should be as close to the noun being modified as possible.

Subordinate clauses can come at the start or end of a sentence.

Some participial phrases are best interpreted functionally as abbreviated clauses. This is especially true if a participial phrase is headed by a conjunction.

A “dangling modifier” is a participial phrase occurring at the start of the main clause that, according to the normal rules for placement of modifiers of nouns, applies to the subject, but is meant to apply to something else.

While crossing the street, the bus hit the old woman

That, according to the normal rules of construction implies that the bus was crossing the street. But what was undoubtedly intended is

The bus hit the old woman while crossing the street

So the “dangling modifier” here is a participial phrase that is misplaced. I suppose a dangling modifier could occur anywhere, but I agree with your references (and Ronald Sole) that dangling modifiers (almost?) always occur at the beginning of clauses and so get mistakenly applied to the subject.

Why does this happen so often?

I think it is because participial phrases are frequently, in terms of function, truncated clauses, and clauses have their own subjects.

While the old woman was crossing the street, the bus hit her.

No confusion there about whether the bus or the woman was crossing the street.

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  • Thank you very much for your answer. So the participial phrase always refers to the subject? Aug 14, 2022 at 22:59
  • What I am suggesting is if a participial phrase or clause is modifying the subject of the verb, placing it before the subject is fine. If the phrase or clause is modifying the object of the verb, place it as close as possible to the object. If the phrase or clause is modifying the verb put it after the object of the verb. In short, the grammatical function of the phrase or clause should determine its placement according to standard rules of English. Is that clearer? Aug 14, 2022 at 23:08
  • I thought the participial phrase always refers to the subject of the sentence. As you said, it doesn't matter where I place "while crossing the street" it always refers to "the bus". Aug 14, 2022 at 23:44
  • No, a participial phrase does not always refer to the subject of a clause. The short definition of a dangling participle is a participial phrase or clause that is not in the correct place. The obvious entity that was crossing the street was the woman who was hit by the bus. Where did I say that a participial phrase or clause always refers to the subject? That is quite wrong Aug 15, 2022 at 0:44
  • It was my bad. I thought you said, that the sentence "the bus hit her while crossing the street" was wrong. But is that sentence correct? Aug 15, 2022 at 17:04

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