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What Is the Accusative Absolute?

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  • Written By: Franklin Jeffrey
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2016
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Grammarians use the term accusative absolute to describe a special construction in some languages. It is in a sense a clause that cannot stand on its own and has little or no meaning except when taken with the rest of the sentence. Constructed in the accusative case, it most often appears as a noun or pronoun joined to a predicate and lacking a finite verb. The accusative absolute appears in Greek, Latin and colloquial English grammar, but it is of particular importance in modern German grammar. Understanding what is meant by absolute construction and accusative case can help explain this particular grammatical construction.

An absolute construction is not connected grammatically to the sentence's subject and predicate and is a logical part of the sentence only by context. This can cause it to resemble a dangling participle, but whereas a dangling participle is intending to describe or modify a noun, an absolute construction does not. The accusative case is also called the objective case in English; it applies to nouns and pronouns that are the object of a sentence, whether direct or indirect. Some grammarians describe the accusative as the case at which the rest of the sentence points, since it clarifies whom or what is receiving the verb's action.

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The accusative absolute is formed by a noun or pronoun in the accusative case and placed in an absolute construction without a finite verb. Finite verbs are traditional action verbs, like running or dancing; non-finite verbs are those that require a direct object to make sense, such as being, having or buying. An English example of the accusative absolute is present in the sentence, "Him being my brother, I loaned him the money," where "him being my brother" includes a non-finite verb and a pronoun in accusative case.

In German grammar, the accusative absolute is typically used with a noun phrase. When used in this manner, the construction describes something pertaining to the subject. For example, the sentence, "Umbrella in hand, he entered the shop," includes the accusative absolute "umbrella in hand" to indicate that the subject, "he" is holding an umbrella. German does still utilize the accusative case with sentence objects being acted upon by the subjects, but does not utilize absolute constructions in the way English does. In both English and German, however, an accusative absolute still lacks a direct grammatical connection to the rest of the sentence and thus does not make sense by itself.

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shell4life
Post 2

@orangey03 – That sounds like German grammar. I think that the English equivalent would involve a pronoun.

So, if you were doing an accusative absolute in this form, you would say, “Him having wandered away,” or “Him being less of a man.” It is all very confusing, I know.

This is why I don't generally assign terms to the parts of my writing. I know what they are called, but I can compose sentences more easily if I don't label the parts. As long as I don't violate any grammatical rules, I don't see a need to dissect my sentences.

orangey03
Post 1

I never knew exactly what this was called, but I have used it many times in my writing. It's amazing what all you can learn about what you have been doing for years!

I tend to start sentences with phrases like, “Having wandered away from the pack...” or “Being less of a man now...” but I never knew what the correct term for this was. I just did it because it sounded good.

Sometimes, starting a sentence in a way that is sort of off-kilter can make things interesting. I wouldn't do it all the time, though, because it would disrupt the natural flow of the work.

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