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H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.

Chapter II. Syntax


THE unattached or wrongly attached participle is one of the blunders most common with illiterate or careless writers. But there are degrees of heinousness in the offence; our examples are arranged from 1. to 8. in these degrees, starting with perfect innocence.
  1. Participles that have passed into prepositions, conjunctions, or members of adverbial phrases.
    Considering the circumstances, you may go. Seeing that it was involuntary, he can hardly be blamed. Roughly speaking, all men are liars. Looking at it in a shortened perspective of time, those years of transition have the quality of a single consecutive occurrence.—H. G. Wells. The Bill … will bring about, assuming that it meets with good fortune in the remaining stages of its passage through Parliament, a very useful reform.—Times.
    Regarded as participles, these are incorrect. It is not you that consider, but I; not he that sees, but we; not men that roughly speak, but the moralist; not years that look, but philosophic historians; not the Bill that assumes, but the newspaper prophet. The development into prepositions, &c., is a natural one, however; the only question about any particular word of the kind is whether the vox populi has yet declared for it; when it has, there is no more to be said; but when it has not, the process should be resisted as long as possible, writers acting as a suspensive House of Lords; an instance will be found in 4. Three quotations from Burke will show that he, like others of his time, felt himself more at liberty than most good writers would now feel themselves.
    Founding the appeal on this basis, it was judged proper to lay before Parliament…—Burke. Flattering themselves that their power is become necessary to the support of all order and government, everything which tends to the support of that power is sanctified.—Burke. Having considered terror as producing an unnatural tension and certain violent emotions of the nerves; it easily follows.—Burke.
    Similar constructions may be found on almost every page of Smollett.
  2. Participles half justified by attachment to a pronoun implied in my, your, his, their. These are perhaps better avoided.
    Having thus run through the causes of the sublime with reference to all the senses, my first observation will be found very nearly true.—Burke. Being much interested in the correspondence bearing on the question ‘Do we believe?’, the first difficulty arising in my mind is…—Daily Telegraph. My farm consisted of about twenty acres of excellent land, having given a hundred pounds for my predecessor’s good will.—Goldsmith.
  3. Mere unattached participles for which nothing can be said, except that they are sometimes inoffensive if the word to be supplied is very vague.
    Doubling the point, and running along the southern shore of the little peninsula, the scene changes.—F. M. Crawford. The most trying … period was this one of enforced idleness waiting for the day of entry.—Times. Having acquired so many tropical colonies there is the undoubted duty attached to such possession of…—Times.
  4. Participles that may some day become prepositions, &c.
    Sir—Referring to your correspondent’s (the Bishop of Croydon’s) letter in to-day’s issue, he quotes at the close of it the following passage.—Daily Telegraph.
    He must be the Bishop; for the immediately preceding Sir, marking the beginning of the letter, shows that no one else has been mentioned; but if we had given the sentence without this indication, no one could possibly have believed that this was so; referring is not yet unparticipled.
  5. An unwary writer sometimes attaches a participle to the subject of a previous sentence, assuming that it will be the subject of the new sentence also, and then finds (or rather is not awake enough to find) himself mistaken. This is a trap into which good writers sometimes fall, and so dangerous to bad writers that we shall give many examples. It is important for the tiro to realize that he has not satisfied the elementary requirements of grammar until he has attached the participle to a noun in the same sentence as itself, not in another. He must also remember that, for instance, I went and he came, though often spoken of loosely as a sentence, is in fact as fully two sentences as if each half of it were ten lines long, and the two were parted by a full stop and not connected by a conjunction.
    They had now reached the airy dwelling where Mrs. Macshake resided, and having rung, the door was at length most deliberately opened.—S. Ferrier. The lovers sought a shelter, and, mutually charmed with each other, time flew for a while on downy pinions.—S. Ferrier. A molecular change is propagated to the muscles by which the body is retracted, and causing them to contract, the act of retraction is brought about.—Huxley. Joseph, as they supposed, by tampering with Will, got all my secrets, and was acquainted with all my motions—; and having also undertaken to watch all those of his young lady, the wise family were secure.—Richardson. Miss Pinkerton … in vain … tried to overawe her. Attempting once to scold her in public, Rebecca hit upon the … plan of answering her in French, which quite routed the old woman.—Thackeray. But he thought it derogatory to a brave knight passively to await the assault, and ordering his own men to charge, the hostile squadrons, rapidly advancing against each other, met midway on the plain.—Prescott. Alvarado, roused by the noise of the attack on this quarter, hastened to the support of his officer, when Almagro, seizing the occasion, pushed across the bridge, dispersed the small body left to defend it, and, falling on Alvarado’s rear, that general saw himself hemmed in on all sides.—Prescott. Murtagh, without a word of reply, went to the door, and shouting into the passage something in Irish, the room was instantly filled with bogtrotters.—Borrow. But, as before, Anne once more made me smart, and having equipped herself in a gown and bonnet of mine—not of the newest—off we set.—Crockett. At this I was silent for a little, and then I resolved to speak plainly to Anne. But not being ready with my words, she got in first.—Crockett. For many years I had to contend with much opposition in the nature of scepticism; but having had hundreds of successful cases and proofs it has become such an established fact in the eastern counties that many landowners, &c., would not think of sinking a well without first seeking the aid of a water diviner.—Times.
  6. A more obvious trap, and consequently less fatal, is a change from the active construction that may have been intended to a passive, without corresponding alterations. If the writers of the next two had used we must admit instead of it must be admitted, a policy that they put forward, instead of a policy put forward, the participles hesitating and believing would have had owners.
    While hesitating to accept this terrible indictment of French infancy, it must be admitted that French literature in all its strength and wealth is a grown-up literature.—Spectator. He and those with whom he acted were responsible for the policy promulgated—a policy put forward in all seriousness and honesty believing it to be essential to the obtaining of the better government of Ireland.—Times.
  7. Participles that seem to belong to a noun, but do not.
    Letters on the constant stopping of omnibuses, thus causing considerable suffering to the horses.
    Does causing agree with letters? Then the letters annoy the horses. With stopping? Then stopping causes suffering by stopping (thus). With omnibuses? The horses possibly blame those innocents, but we can hardly suppose a human being, even the writer of the sentence, so illogical. The word thus, however, is often considered to have a kind of dispensing power, freeing its participle from all obligations; so:
    The Prince was, by the special command of his Majesty the Emperor, made the guardian of H.I.H. the Crown Prince, thus necessitating the Prince’s constant presence in the capital of Japan.—Times. A very wealthy man can never be sure even of friendship,—while the highest, strongest and noblest kind of love is nearly always denied to him, in this way carrying out the fulfilment of those strange but true words:—’How hardly shall he that is a rich man enter the Kingdom of Heaven!’—Corelli.
    It is not love that carries out, but the power that denies love, which is not mentioned.
  8. Really bad unattached or wrongly attached participles. The reader will generally find no difficulty in seeing what has led to the blunder, and if he will take the trouble to do this, will be less likely to make similar blunders himself.
    And then stooping to take up the key to let myself into the garden, he started and looked as if he heard somebody near the door.—Richardson. Sir—With reference to this question ‘Do we believe’, while recognizing the vastness of the subject, its modern aspect has some definite features.—Daily Telegraph. Taken in conjunction with the splendid white and brown trout-fishing of the Rosses lakes and rivers, anglers have now the opportunity of fishing one of the best, if not the best, fishery to be obtained in Ireland.—Advt. Sir—Having read with much interest the letters re ‘Believe only’ now appearing in the Daily Telegraph, perhaps some of your readers might be interested to know the following texts which have led some great men to ‘believe only’.—Daily Telegraph. Being pushed unceremoniously to one side—which was precisely what wished—he usurped my place.—C. Brontë. The higher forms of speech acquire a secondary strength from association. Having, in actual life, habitually heard them in connexion with mental impressions, and having been accustomed to meet with them in the most powerful writing, they come to have in themselves a species of force.—Spencer. Standing over one of the sluices of the Aswan dam last January, not only was the vibration evident to the senses…—Times. The following passage may be commended for use in examination papers. ‘Always beloved by the Imperial couple who are to-day the Sovereign lord and lady of Great Britain, their Majesties have, on many occasions since the Devonshire houses rejoiced in a mistress once more, honoured them by visits extending over some days.’—Times.
    The last, as the Times reviewer has noticed, will repay analysis in several ways.
  9. The absolute construction is not much to be recommended, having generally an alien air in English; but it is sometimes useful. It must be observed, first, that the case used should now invariably be the subjective, though it was otherwise in old English. Secondly, it is very seldom advisable to make an absolute construction and insert a pronoun for the purpose when the participle might simply be attached in ordinary agreement to a noun already to hand. Thirdly, it is very bad to use the construction, but omit to give the participle a noun or pronoun to itself. These three transgressions will be illustrated, in the same order, by the next three examples. But many of the wrong sentences in 5. above may be regarded as absolute constructions with the subject omitted.
    I, with whom that Impulse was the most intractable, the most capricious, the most maddening of masters (him before me always excepted)…—C. Brontë. ‘Special’ is a much overworked word, it being loosely used to mean great in degree, also peculiar in kind.—R. G. White. This is said now because, having been said before, I have been judged as if I had made the pretensions which were then and which are now again disclaimed.—R. G. White.