Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Is your participle dangling?

Yesterday I got a letter from Barclays which read, ‘As your Plan Manager, the Inland Revenue requires us to inform them of […]’. And I wondered if I should write back, asking indignantly why they transferred the management of my account to the Inland Revenue without my permission. Well no, what they meant was ‘As your Plan Manager, we are required by the Inland Revenue to inform them…’

It’s the dreaded dangling participle again. Now I’m not a split infinitive bigot. I don’t even complain about ‘who/whom’ any more now that the Times (but not, quirkily, their Style and Usage Guide) routinely accepts ‘who’ in the dative case. But those hanging participles can be positively – or is it negatively? – misleading. Perhaps ‘misrelated participles’ would be better, but Fowler (of Modern English Usage, not the one who’s just signed for Liverpool) calls them ‘unattached’. I don’t agree – they’re usually attached, but to the wrong subject. (Not often I disagree with the mighty Fowler.)

But they all do it.

An invitation to a writing course: ‘As someone who has requested information about this course, we’d like to invite […]’ Why did they request information about their own course?
P & O: ‘As a valued customer, I would like to thank you […]
Citalia: (More than once) ‘As a previous client, we […]’
AOL: ‘As a valued AOL member, I’m delighted to […]’
Jaguar: ‘As a valued […] client, I am writing to […]’
Henderson Investments had the vanity to claim: ‘I am writing to you as an astute investor[…]’
BBC Radio 4: 'Being unique, I won’t try to imitate him.'
Even Writer’s Digest: ‘After two years in New York, Time transferred her to […]’
And The Sunday Times, in and article about Germaine Greer, may have risked libel action: ‘With past lovers including Warren Beatty, did the producers of Big Brother hope […]’

It's easier to do it the right way than the wrong way, so why do they do it? - but then as a regular writer (if not a particularly regular blogger), you must not get the impression I’m a pedant.

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