Wondering what absolute phrases are? Well, we will know everything about them in some minutes. But before we master what absolute phrases are in English, we must know what a phrase in English.

A phrase is a group of words that does not have a subject-verb combination. There are different types of phrases in English; an absolute phrase is one of them.

Absolute-phrases-examples
Absolute phrases examples

What are absolute phrases in English?

Absolute phrase definition: a phrase that modifies an independent clause (a complete sentence) is called an absolute phrase. It does not modify a particular word or a phrase; it modifies a complete sentence and adds beautiful visuals to it.

How to form an absolute phrase?

Absolute phrases are formed using a noun and an adjective (which can be a participle, or a normal adjective, or a prepositional phrase) and other modifiers (optional).

At a minimum, we need a noun and an adjective to form an absolute phrase. The adjective in the absolute phrase can be a participle, which it generally is, a normal adjective, or a prepositional phrase that modifies the noun/pronoun. Since absolute phrases give nonessential information and can be removed without altering the meaning of a sentence they modify, they are offset using a comma.

NOTE: Absolute phrases don’t have a finite verb in them. If you add a finite verb to an absolute phrase, it will turn it into a complete sentence —independent clause.

Absolute phrases examples

  • Chandler proposed Monica on her birthday, her heart filled with joy.

Her heart filled with joy is the absolute phrase that’s modifying the main clause—Chandler proposed Monica on her birthday. It’s giving beautiful imagery to the entire event, giving us better visuals of the event. Her heart is the noun phrase, filled is the past participle, and with joy is a modifying phrase.

See, we have offset the absolute phrase using a comma after it. Is it okay if we don’t offset our absolute phrase using a comma? 😉

That would be a very fundamental mistake. If there is anything in a sentence that is not essential (important) to the meaning of it—does not change its meaning—we must offset it using a comma, or two if it comes in the middle of the sentence.

  • The girl was sitting in a corner of her room, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Tears rolling down her cheeks is the absolute phrase that’s adding more details to the independent clause, making the picture more explicit and clearer. Tears is the noun, rolling is the present participle, and down her cheeks is the modifying phrase. It is coming at the end of the sentence, and we have used a comma before it to offset it.

If you notice, in the first example, the absolute phrase shows a cause for the main clause, and in the second example, it narrows down the meaning of the main clause, giving explicit details about it.

If we add a finite verb to both the absolute phrases, we will end up having a complete sentence.

Her heart was filled with joy.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks.

Types of absolute phrases

There are two types of absolute phrases in terms of how they modify the main clause.

Type1

These are absolute phrases that give beautiful visuals of the event, making it imagery, adding more details to a sentence. These are very common in fiction writing.

Type2

These are absolute phrases that show a cause or a condition.


Examples of Type1 absolute phrases:

  • It was pouring down rain heavily; a random girl stopped at my place asking to stay for a night, her clothes completely wether body hot.

We have two absolute phrases in the above sentence: her clothes completely wet, and her body hot. Both the phrases are adding details to the main clause, giving us clear visuals of the scene.

More examples:

  • Dogs howling, we entered the building to see if it was actually haunted.
  • Last night, I saw him wandering on the road, a gun in his hand.
  • Max came back home after a fight, his shirts tornhands broken.

Examples of type2 absolute phrases:

  • The weather being cloudy, we decided to stay home and not do hike the mountains.
    (The absolute phrase in this sentence shows how it affected the main clause.)
  • His friends singing his favorite songhis parents dancinghis girlfriend holding his hands, Mangesh got emotional and broke down in tears.
  • She organized a welcome party and invited all the close friends, her brother coming from China.

These absolute phrases are showing how they affect the main clauses.

Components of an absolute phrase

  1. A noun or a noun phrase
  2. An adjective ( participles, normal adjectives, or prepositional phrases)
  3. Modifiers/objects (optional)

To form an absolute phrase, we need a noun and an adjective at a minimum. The role of the adjective is generally played by a participle, but a normal adjective and a prepositional phrase working as adjectives are also used for that. Though, participles are the most common adjectives used in absolute phrases.

If you don’t know what a participle is, let me help you understand that.

Participle: a participle is a verb that works as an adjective in a sentence. There are two types of participles in English:

  1. Present participle: It is a verb form ending with “ing”. Examples: dancing girl, running train, fighting game, etc.
  2. Past participle: It is a past participle form of a verb, also known as the third form of a verb. Examples: broken hand, finished career, motivated man, etc.

Examples of absolute phrases

A) Absolute phrases using a noun/pronoun and a participle

  • He hit the last ball for a six, everyone jumping in the air with happiness.

everyone = a noun (subject)
jumping= present participle (modifier)
in the air with happiness = modifying phrase

More examples:

  • The beggar started talking about how he lost his family and his job, we shocked and saddened.
  • His hands broken brutally, he could not play the match.
  • Her body shaking, she looked at the dead body for its identification.
  • The wedding got called off, everyone’s heart broken.
  • Her brother coming home after a long time, she decided to organize a welcome party for him.

NOTE: we can all multiple absolute phrases in a sentence. You will do that to create a colorful picture in the minds of your readers.

The lights litballoons floating around the halleveryone dancing and drinking, we entered the birthday party.

We have three absolute phrases in the above sentence. Does it not create a clear visual of the event in our minds? 😉

It definitely is doing that. We have all these visuals in the minds when we read the sentence. How was the scene when the main action happened—we entered the birthday party? The lights were litballoons were floating around the hall, and everyone was dancing.

This was the scene when we entered the hall. If you notice, I have added a finite verb to all these absolute phrases and changed them into complete sentences. Just to show you the visuals of the event!

B) Absolute phrases using a noun/pronoun and a normal adjective

  • The exams over, we went for a movie.

The exams = a noun phrase
over = adjective

More examples:

  • His clothes dirty, he didn’t go to the party.
  • We sat down in a circle near his grave, our hearts void.
  • Jamie got a job in a big MNC, his parents happier than ever.

C) Absolute phrases using a noun/pronoun and a prepositional phrases

As I told you, absolute phrases generally have participles in them. But we can have prepositional phrases in place of participles. But how?

Simple. Prepositional phrases can work as adjectives, modifying a noun or a pronoun. And that’s exactly what we need: an adjective. Whether it a basic adjective, or a participle, which is a verb form but works as an adjective, or a prepositional phrase that modifies a noun or a pronoun. The point is to have something that works as an adjective.

  • A big smile on his face, Max came out of the interview room with an offer letter.

A big smile = a noun phrase
on his face = prepositional phrase (adjective, modifying the noun phrase)

More examples:

  • A gun in his hands, the thief asked me give him everything I had.
  • When I went there, Jon had been sleeping for some hours, his phone in his hands.
  • I walked into the room and saw him praying, hands across his heartknees on the ground.

Position of absolute phrases

Absolute phrases can come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. They are generally used at the beginning of a sentence to set a certain tone and portray a dramatic picture of the event. But they can be placed at all these three positions. Here are the examples:

  • A gun in his hands, the thief asked me give him everything I had.
  • The thief asked me give him everything I had, a gun in his hands.
  • The thief, a gun in his hands, asked me give him everything I had.

Changing absolute phrases into complete sentences

There’s only one thing that stops an absolute phrase from becoming a complete sentence: a finite verb.

Finite verb: a verb that has a subject and refers to a time.

Sentences containing absolute phrases

  • He hit the last ball for a six, everyone jumping in the air with happiness.
  • Her brother coming home after a long time, she decided to organize a welcome party for him.

Let’s change these absolute phrases into complete sentences. You guys know what we have to do! 😉

  • He hit the last ball for a six. Everyone was jumping in the air with happiness.
  • Her brother was coming home after a long time. She decided to organize a welcome party for him.

Easy-peasy! We just added a finite verb to these absolute phrases to change them into complete sentences.

Now, if we want to add these to the main clause, we have to change them into subordinate clauses using a subordinating conjunction at their beginning, or we have to change the main clause into a subordinate clause.

Changing absolute phrases into subordinate clauses

Changing absolute phrases into subordinate clauses is a two-step process.

  1. Use a finite verb
  2. Add a subordinating conjunction at the beginning

Change the absolute phrase either into a subordinate clause or the main clause, depending upon what’s needed in the sentence.

  • When he hit the last ball for a six, everyone was jumping in the air with happiness.

Here, we have changed the main clause into a subordinate clause using a subordinating conjunction WHEN.

  • Because her brother was coming home after a long time, she decided to organize a welcome party for him.

Here, we have changed the absolute phrase into a subordinate clause using a finite verb (was) and a subordinating conjunction (because).

Some important points about absolute phrases

  1. Absolute phrases start with a noun or a noun phrase.
  2. They do not have a finite verb in it.
  3. They modify the main clause in a sentence.
  4. They are offset from a sentence using a comma.
  5. Removing them will not change the meaning of a sentence.
  6. If an absolute phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, it generally starts with a possessive pronoun: my, his, your, her, our, its, and their.

Why should we learn absolute phrases?

Absolute phrases are not something we use in our spoken English. Their usage is limited to fiction writing. They add beautiful visuals to our sentences and make the story dramatic and interesting. So, they are an amazing tool to have in the pocket when it comes to writing that stimulates the imagination and makes it more interesting.

But don’t use them for the sake of their beauty! Use absolute phrases when they are connected to the main clause and give details related to the scene.

  • He hit the last ball for a six, everyone jumping in the air with happiness.

Here, the absolute phrase gives the visuals of the scene, adding more details to it.

But I won’t say the following:

  • He hit the last ball for a six, my dog barking outside my house.

Check out the examples of absolute phrase by Chompchomp.

Watch my YouTube video on absolute phrases:

So, this is all about absolutes phrases: a mystery for many. I am sure you just left that club. 😉

Feel to ask your queries, share your feedback, and correct the typos if you come across any. Empower others by sharing the post with them! See you in the next class, my smart brains! 🙂


Here is my YouTube video lesson on absolute phrases in Hindi:

A video Absolute phrases in detail

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