Language
Fact-checked

At LanguageHumanities, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What Is a Nominative Absolute?

A nominative absolute is a grammatical gem that adds elegance to your writing. It's a standalone phrase with a noun and modifier, providing extra detail without altering the main sentence's flow. Think of it as a narrative flourish, enriching your prose with vivid context. Ready to enhance your linguistic artistry? Discover how a nominative absolute can transform your sentences.
Meg Higa
Meg Higa

A nominative absolute is the linguistic term given to a type of phrase within a complex sentence. It may appear to be its own separate, albeit awkwardly constructed, sentence. A thoughtful reading, however, makes it evident that the phrase describes the rest of the main sentence. Often, that relationship is simply descriptive; but it can be more subtle, such as a temporal, or conditional, consequence.

The word nominative is derived from the Latin word for “name,” and its reference in grammar is nouns used as the subject, not as an object of a verb. The word absolute is derived from “made loose.” A nominative absolute phrase therefore must contain a subjective noun, entirely different and separate from the nouns in the main sentence. To further loosen the phrase, the noun must be paired with a verb of some form, or several modifying adjectives, to complete a single thought. Lastly, to complete the appearance of separation, the phrase is nearly always, in English, punctuated by commas.

“Her cubs following, the female bear waded across the stream.”

A nominative absolute is the linguistic term given to a type of phrase within a complex sentence.
A nominative absolute is the linguistic term given to a type of phrase within a complex sentence.

The nominative absolute in the above sentence is “Her cubs following.” The subjective noun is “cubs,” and its accompanying verb form is the frequently used present participle of “follow.” The phrase, separated by a comma, is often at the beginning of a sentence, but can be placed anywhere. It appears to be a complete sentence on its own; and most complex sentences with such phrases can be separated with minor corrections — “Her cubs were following. The female bear waded across the stream.”

The more common minor reconstruction, particularly in spoken language, is to state the relationship between the nominative absolute and its main sentence. In this case, it is a descriptive adjective of “the female bear,” and the sentence can begin with the fully expressed prepositional phrase “With her cubs following, ...” to reflect that relationship. Alternatively, and just as commonly, the phrase can be expanded into a complete adverb clause, such as “Since her cubs were following, ....”

Use of the nominative absolute in English probably originates from its common usage in Latin and ancient Greek. Encountering the structure in its written form, an inattentive reader who does not readily recognize its relationship to the main sentence may mistake the phrase for being one of the most common grammatical mistakes called the “dangling participle,” which is truly unrelated to any other word in the sentence. Other readers might have the opinion that it is either archaic or less than stylistic. The following example suggests this type of phrase is in more than fair use: “All things considered, everything should work as planned.”

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon960095

A sentence with a nominative absolute does not have to be a complex sentence. In fact, it rarely is. Only one of your sentences in the example is complex and it does not have a nominative absolute.

anon351719

Which of the following sentences does not have a nominative absolute?

Hint: The nominative absolute can be positioned either at the beginning or end of the main clause.

The waves having washed away much of the cliff, the house was in danger.

The town held a festival, the harvest having been so large.

Since the waves had washed away much of the cliff, the house was in danger.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • A nominative absolute is the linguistic term given to a type of phrase within a complex sentence.
      By: Focus Pocus LTD
      A nominative absolute is the linguistic term given to a type of phrase within a complex sentence.