Grammar 18


Absolute Phrases

Absolute phrases are often called absolute constructions.

Absolute phrases are hard to define, but—in most cases—they aren't too hard to recognize. A "simple" definition is this:

An absolute phrase is a participial phrase with its own subject.

Consider the following sentence:

In this sentence, "blowing in the wind" is a participial phrase. Participial phrases typically refer to the subject of the sentence. Therefore, written this way, the participial phrase "blowing in the wind" refers to Vicki. If we ask the question: What is blowing in the wind? The answer is Vicki. Vicki is blowing in the wind.

But that's not exactly what we are trying to say. Vicki herself isn't blowing in the wind; her hair is blowing in the wind. So we give the participial phrase its own subject (her hair). Now the sentence makes sense.


Sentences with Absolute Phrases


The dog walked into the room, its tail wagging from side to side.


Irma got out of the pool, her legs quivering.


Ramiro struggled back to his feet, his arm broken.


Neil entered the house, his boots caked with mud.


Absolute phrases can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.


Her eyes welling up with tears, Sabrina packed her bags.


Sabrina, her eyes welling up with tears, packed her bags.


Sabrina packed her bags, her eyes welling up with tears.


In many cases, the absolute phrase can be compared to a close-up shot in a film; it focuses the reader's attention on a particular detail of the scene.

Wide-angle shot Close-up shot

The monster growled,

it's eyes bulging with fear.

Mellisa buttoned her coat,

her fingers twitching nervously.


Sometimes, the absolute phrase describes a condition which allows the main clause to happen.

Condition Main Clause

God willing,

we shall meet again.

Weather permitting,

we will leave tomorrow.

Her homework finished,

Amelia went to bed.


Variations of the Absolute Phrase

There are several variations of the absolute phrase (and that's what makes these phrases hard to define). For example, we sometimes see a prepositional phrase with its own subject:

Occasionally, we even see an adjective with its own subject.

Both these variations are considered absolute constructions.

Instructions for the Quiz

Identify the underlined phrase.