Absolute Phrase

 

1. What is an Absolute Phrase?

An absolute phrase is a phrase that modifies a whole independent clause (a full sentence); not just one word. It generally combines a noun and a participle, so it can be as short as two words, or sometimes have other modifiers and objects, too. Absolute phrases are not full sentences on their own, but they can add very important details to sentences that make them more informative or relevant.

 

2. Examples of Absolute Phrase

Unlike a normal modifier that just modifies a word in a sentence, an absolute phrase modifies a whole sentence. Below, the absolute phrases are orange:

  • Sally waited for her friends to arrive, muffins baking in the oven.
  • Muffins baking in the oven, Sally waited for her friends to arrive.
  • Her muffins freshly baked, Sally waited for her friends to arrive.
  • Sally waited for her friends to arrive, her muffins freshly baked and ready.

What’s more, absolute phrases are not full sentences on their own; they only modify full sentences. As you can also see, they are NOT connected to the full sentence by a conjunction (like and).

 

3. Parts of Absolute Phrases

Absolute phrases always have a noun (as the subject), but don’t have a finite verb (a verb that works with the subject to make a full sentence). Usually, they also have a participle, plus other modifiers and objects.

a. Nouns

A noun is a person, place, thing, object or idea. A sentence’s subject is pretty much always a noun. In an absolute phrase, the noun is what is doing the present or past participle (see the next section, B). Here are some examples, with the nouns in green:

  • Muffins baking
  • Fingers typing
  • Clothes folded
  • Muffins baked

The noun in an absolute phrase is very often (but not always) accompanied by a pronoun, like this:

  • Her muffins baking
  • Their fingers typing
  • His clothes folded
  • My muffins baked

b. Participles

An absolute phrase almost always has a past or present participle. Adding “ed” to the end of regular verbs makes the past participle; adding “ing” to the end of all verbs makes the present participle. Here’s a chart to make this easier to understand:

verb tense

c. Objects

An object is the word affected by the verb or preposition in a sentence. Objects are usually nouns or pronouns that answer questions like “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when?” Here, the objects are purple:

  • Sally baked muffins. What did Sally bake?
  • Sally baked at home. Where did she bake?
  • Sally baked for her friends. Who did she bake them for?
  • Sally baked this morning. When did she bake them?

The objects answer the questions, giving us more details about what is happening in the sentences.

d. Modifiers

A modifier is an adjective or adverb that “modifies” or affects other words in a sentence to make it more descriptive. Here, the modifiers are orange. Let’s start with a simple sentence:

Sally baked muffins.

Now, let’s add modifiers:

Sally lovingly baked fresh blueberry muffins.

Modifiers help give a clearer idea about the things in the sentence. We now know that Sally cares about her baking (lovingly), and that the muffins were blueberry and made fresh.

 

4. Types of Absolute Phrases

As mentioned, most absolute phrases use a noun and either a past or present participle. But, like many other cases in grammar, there are exceptions, like other types of phrases that work like absolute phrases!

 

a. Past Participles

Past participles are different for regular and irregular verbs, but all past participle forms of regular verbs end in “ed.”Absolute phrases using a past participle follow the form Noun + past participle:

  • The batter mixed, Sally was ready to bake her muffins.
  • Muffins baked, it was time for the brunch to begin.
  • Muffins eaten, it was time for Sally to serve the fruit.
  • Fruit served and enjoyed, Sally could now rest.

The past participles show that since something has happened, something else can happen. Without the past participle, we wouldn’t know any other details about the main clause. For example, since the batter is mixed, Sally can make muffins; since the muffins are baked, brunch can start.

b. Present Participles

As you know, a present participle form of a verb always ends in “ing.” Absolute phrases using a present participle follow the form Noun + present participle:

  • Her mixer mixing the batter, Sally could soon add blueberries.
  • Sally prepared the tables for brunch, her muffins baking in the oven.
  • Muffins cooling on the counter, they would soon be ready to eat.
  • You knew the muffins were homemade, the whole house smelling of blueberries.

The present participles show that something is happening right now that affects the full sentence. For example, the muffins are cooling, so soon they can be eaten; or, Sally prepares the tables, while the muffins are baking.

c. Other Phrases as Absolute Phrases

Sometimes an absolute phrase doesn’t have a participle. When it doesn’t, it can instead be a noun phrase or prepositional phrase that modifies a whole sentence.

A wonderful baker, Sally made fresh muffins for her friends.                   Noun phrase

Last night, Sally made fresh muffins for her friends.                                 Prepositional phrase

You can see that both of the absolute phrases modify the whole sentence. “A wonderful baker” makes the fact that Sally baked muffins more important and meaningful—we know that they will be delicious. Likewise, “last night” tells us when Sally baked the muffins.

 

5. How to Avoid Mistakes

An absolute phrase should not have an effect on the grammar of the sentence it modifies. Since it modifies an independent clause, which is a full sentence, if you take it away, the sentence will still make sense on its own, like this:

Muffins baking in the oven, Sally waited for her friends to arrive.

Muffins baking in the oven, Sally waited for her friends to arrive.

 

Sally waited for her friends to arrive, her muffins freshly baked and ready.

Sally waited for her friends to arrive, her muffins freshly baked and ready.

So, you can see that without the absolute phrases, the examples above are still complete sentences. But, absolute phrases are NOT full sentences.

 

a. Tips

Here are some final important rules to help you avoid mistakes with absolute phrases:

  1. Absolute phrases modify a full sentence, not just one word.
  2. They always have a noun
  3. They usually have a participle, as well as modifiers and objects.
  4. An absolute phrase can also be a noun phrase or prepositional phrase
  5. Absolute phrases do not affect a sentence’s grammar.

Test your Knowledge

1.
An absolute phrase must have a noun and usually a participle, and can have ___________.

a.

b.

c.

d.

2.
What is the absolute phrase in this sentence?

Her kids tucked into bed, Jane could finally go to sleep.

a.

b.

c.

d.

3.
An absolute phrase modifies:

a.

b.

c.

d.

4.
What is the absolute phrase in this sentence?

The sun shining bright, Jane knew it was going to be a great day.

a.

b.

c.

d.

Share on Facebook0Share on Google+4Tweet about this on TwitterPrint this page
Loading Facebook Comments ...