Grammar: Absolute Phrase

Posted December 9, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

I love this example phrase — The storks, their slender bodies sleek and black against the orange sky, circled high above us. — it’s so poetic. It also provides an excellent example of the absolute phrase AND how its placement within a sentence can affect how you read that sentence.

Exploring This Example

In the table below, the first half of the first sentence emphasizes the shapes and colors and only later provides context for those slender, sleek bodies, the black against the orange.

In the second sentence, it reverses the emphasis, causing us to see the storks first with the shapes and colors a secondary consideration.

The third sentence feels as if the clause and the phrase are addressed equally. We know these are storks, but have no idea what they’re doing. Those shapes, the colors, tell us something about the birds. But it’s the last third of this sentence that pulls it all together.

And I’m not sure if I prefer the first sentence because of the artist in me…

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone on an area of grammar with which you struggle or on which you can contribute more understanding.

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Absolute Phrase
Credit to: Richard Nordquist
Definition: A group of words that modifies the whole independent clause [noun/pronoun, sometimes modified by a participle, no true finite verb]. Because they add information, they are always treated as parenthetical elements.

A.k.a., nominative absolute

Rule: It could come before, follow, or interrupt the clause, but the entire absolute phrase can be moved anywhere within the independent clause.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the main or independent clause being modified, The storks circled high above us
  2. Green indicates the absolute phrase, their slender bodies sleek and black against the orange sky

Their slender bodies sleek and black against the orange sky, the storks circled high above us.

The storks circled high above us, their slender bodies sleek and black against the orange sky.

The storks, their slender bodies sleek and black against the orange sky, circled high above us.

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