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All About Absolute Constructions in English Grammar

All About Absolute Constructions in English Grammar

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Have you ever wondered what makes the written language much more interesting than the spoken language at times?

If you have asked at least once how and why writers can make you clearly imagine what you are reading, you are certainly on the right page.

Today, we are going to talk about absolute constructions in English, which are well-known yet tricky-to-use literary devices.

Let’s begin with a quick explanation.


What are absolute constructions in English grammar?

Absolute constructions are expressions that do not follow the usual grammar of English. They are often verbless and likely use participles instead. Absolute constructions are more common in literary writing than in spoken contexts because they are highly effective concision and descriptive devices.

Absolute constructions are grammar-defying tools used by many writers worldwide; they exist to make reading simply more worthwhile.

These devices are not for the faint-hearted because they are naturally hard to use and make sense of, at least based on conventional grammar standards.

When we talk about “grammar” in a more technical sense, we are bound to go back to discussions related to “syntax.”

One common misconception about grammar is that it is simply another catch-all term used instead of “sentence construction.”

In reality, grammar is more of an all-encompassing system that governs a particular language including English.

In language studies, sentence constructions are more precisely related to “syntax” or the study of how sentence elements are organized and formed.

Apparently, absolute constructions are engaging literary devices because they withstand the seemingly unshakeable “rules” of syntax.

In other words, absolute constructions support the idea that the grammar of a language is not necessarily set in stone.

If that’s the case, what exactly are absolute constructions?


Defining absolute constructions

The definition for absolute constructions may as well be simplified into “loosened grammar.” This is because they can be freely used within a sentence.

What’s more intriguing is the fact that although absolute constructions lack grammatical completeness, we can certainly make sense of them with ease.

Derived from Latin, the word “absolute” comes from “absolutum” – the perfect passive participle form of “absolvo,” which means “to detach or loosen from” something.

Therefore, “absolute constructions” suggests the meaning “constructions that are separated or untied from the usual or expected grammar.”

In other words, absolute constructions are elements that are abnormally formed yet meaningfully connected to the rest of the sentence.

Absolute constructions are irregular types of phrases and clauses whose main job is to modify the rest of the sentence.

They can appear everywhere, but they are often used in the beginning of sentences as introductory elements.




Tail wagging from joy, Cooper approached his long-lost human friend.


As you can see, the absolute construction in the example above “tail wagging from joy” is grammatically incomplete, yet we can clearly understand what it means.


That, in turn, tells us how powerful the human mind can be when it comes to language meaning comprehension.


So, how are these absolute constructions formed?


Structure of absolute constructions

Absolute constructions are phrases, clauses, or fragments that modify the rest of the sentence, thereby making them adverbials in the process.

These absolute constructions functioning as adverbials usually express time, manner, condition, cause or reason, as well as background circumstances.

As these elements are free in form, they can appear in every part of the sentence, such as the beginning, middle, and end.

Absolute constructions are often verbless or nonfinite, although they may come with something that looks like a verb called “participles.”

In the context of today’s post, we are collectively calling both nouns and pronouns as “nouns,” especially in subsection headings below.

You might also encounter the term “noun phrase,” which can collectively refer to nouns that are either single words or phrases.


Noun + participle absolute constructions

An absolute construction can be formed with a noun or pronoun followed by a present participle – a type of verb construction with an -ing suffix that normally acts as an adjective.

Participles are nonfinite verbs that can perform three roles – that of a verb, an adjective, as well as an adverb. They are often confused with gerunds because of how they are spelled.

The main difference between a gerund and a participle lies in the number of parts of speech they can be used for.

While a participle can usually be used either as an adjective or an adverb, a gerund can only be used as a noun.



[noun/pronoun + present participle]


[confidence + oozing]


Confidence oozing, Donna commands respect everytime she walks the streets of New York.


If we rephrase the introductory absolute construction in the sentence above, we would get “oozing with confidence,” an absolute participial construction.


We may also form an absolute construction with a noun followed by a past participle – a type of verb in its past form usually ending either in -d or -ed that acts as an adjective.



[noun/pronoun + past participle]


[everyone + excited]


Everyone excited, nobody was late for today’s trip.


As you may have observed, the use of the absolute construction above helps in making two sentences act as one, hence an effective way of making ideas concise.


Noun + adverb/adjective absolute constructions

A noun and a regular adverb may also be used to form  absolute constructions. Again, take note that a noun can also be expressed as a phrase rather than a single word, such as in the next example:



[noun/pronoun + adverb]


[both parents + away]


Both parents away his entire life, Remy had gone astray.


In the example above, “away his entire life” is the complete adverbial phrase describing the background circumstance of the subject.


Meawnwhile, an adjective (often a phrase) may also follow a noun phrase in an absolute construction, such as in the example below:



[noun/pronoun + adjective]


[his face + full]


Mike patiently burns his midnight oil, his face full of hope and determination.


The absolute construction above comes at the end of the sentence. Using this technique is also great because it creates a “delaying tactic” effect.


Noun + prepositional phrase absolute constructions

Absolute constructions can also be formed by making use of a noun followed by a prepositional phrase.

In other contexts, absolute constructions may also be sometimes referred to as “parenthetical elements” or simply “parentheticals.”

Parentheticals are always set off with commas no matter where they appear in a sentence because they are not grammatically restricted.

At times, though, they may also be signalled with parentheses marks or square brackets. Using punctuation marks can also be tricky in reality.

In case you want to learn more, feel free to read our previous post tackling comma usage before or after a parenthesis for more information.



[noun/pronoun + phrepositional phrase]


[dagger + in hand]


In the dark awaits the calm man, dagger in hand, ready to slay the unsuspecting young woman.


The absolute construction in the example  above comes in the middle of the sentence, thereby creating an interruptive effect.


Noun + infinitive phrase absolute constructions

Another possible structure for absolute constructions happens when we combine nouns and infinitive phrases.


[noun/pronoun + infinitive]


[the fourth one + to be released]


The third film series of Nicole Kingsley’s Gone in the Storm is out now, the fourth one to be released in another three years.


As you can see, the use of the absolute construction above not only combines two different ideas into one; it also enriches the meaning of the sentence as a whole.


With or without + absolute constructions

Absolute constructions can also begin with either the prepositions “with” or “without.” Doing this creates an existential effect on the idea being conveyed.

In other words, using “with” or “without” in forming absolute constructions evokes the presence or absence of something.

Using “with” together with punctuations can be a bit tricky at times too because it can come with or without a comma in actual writing scenarios.

If you want to learn how to appropriately use a comma before “with” in relation to absolute constructions, feel free to explore more some other time.

Here’s an example using “with” in an absolute construction:



With all his might, Ashura fought against the rabid hyenas to protect his pride.


And, here’s an example using “without” for clarity’s sake:



The peace negotiotiations is over, without the anticipated commotion.


In case you haven’t heard, there are actually several different abbreviations for “without” available out there for economical writing purposes.


These abbreviations can help you make note-taking easier and more efficient, no matter whether you are doing it for general purposes or particularly in the medical field.


Frequently Asked Questions on “Absolute Constructions in English”


What is an absolute phrase?

An absolute phrase is a phrase added to a sentence to make its meaning richer. This kind of phrase does not necessarily contain a verb and may appear either in the beginning, middle, or end of the sentence.


What does “absolute participial construction” mean?

An absolute participial construction is a phrase with an “implied” subject. Participles are formed from verbs and act as adjectives or adverbs. An example of an absolute participial construction is “limping in pain” in this sentence: Limping in pain, the hungry dog kept walking.


What is an example of an absolute clause?

The first part of “My morning coffee having been traditionally brewed, I can’t get enough of this mountain living” is an absolute clause. A clause differs from a phrase in such a way that the former contains both a subject and a verb, no matter whether it is a dependent or an independent type.



Knowing what absolute constructions are and how to make use them helps us convey ideas more clearly and creatively.

Hope this post has addressed your concern today. See you again!