Absolute construction

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In linguistics, an absolute construction is a grammatical construction standing apart from a normal or usual syntactical relation with other words or sentence elements. It can be a non-finite clause that is subordinate in form and modifies an entire sentence, an adjective or possessive pronoun standing alone without a modified substantive, or a transitive verb when its object is implied but not stated.[1][2][3][4] The term absolute derives from Latin absolūtum, meaning "loosened from" or "separated".[5]

Because the non-finite clause, called the absolute clause (or simply the absolute), is not semantically attached to any single element in the sentence, it is easily confused with a dangling participle.[4] The difference is that the participial phrase of a dangling participle is intended to modify a particular noun, but is instead erroneously attached to a different noun, whereas a participial phrase serving as an absolute clause is not intended to modify any noun at all.


While the absolute construction is not particularly common in modern English and is generally more often seen in writing than in speech, it may be spoken as one of several fixed expressions:[4]

  • Barring bad weather, we plan to go to the beach tomorrow.
  • All things considered, it's not a bad idea.
  • This being the case, let us go.[1]
  • The referee having finally arrived, the game began.[2]


Absolute clauses appear in Latin with the modifying participle in the ablative case; for this reason they are referred to as ablative absolutes.[5] An ablative absolute describes some general circumstance under which the action of a sentence occurs. When translated into English, ablative absolutes are often translated as "with [noun] [participle]":

  • Urbe capta Aeneas fugit.
    With the city captured, Aeneas fled.

Other Indo-European languages[edit]

Absolute constructions occur with other grammatical cases in Indo-European languages, such as accusative absolute in Greek, German and Latin, genitive absolute in Greek, dative absolute in Gothic and Old Church Slavonic, and locative absolute in Sanskrit.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b [1]
  2. ^ a b American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
  3. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1265–6. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
  4. ^ a b c The American Heritage Book of English Usage: A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1996. p. 1. ISBN 0-395-76785-7. Archived from the original on 2008-07-28.
  5. ^ a b Wheelock, Frederic; LaFleur, Richard (2005). Wheelock's Latin (6th ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins. pp. 155–7. ISBN 0-06-078371-0.
  6. ^ Benjamin W. Fortson IV (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. p. 149. ISBN 1-4051-0315-9.