An absolute construction is a secondary clause in a sentence that modifies the whole meaning of the main clause. This is a type of grammar originating from Latin. The absolute construction can form the first or last part of a sentence. Such clauses are not linked grammatically to the main clause, but are linked thematically. Another term for this linguistic phenomenon is the ‘nominative absolute.’
Examples of absolute constructions include “with all honesty, I do not remember last night” and “her hair flapping in the wind, Lucy cycled down the hill.” With both sentences, the first clause is the absolute construction and the second clause is the main clause. The main clauses contain the essential information of the sentence. The secondary clauses, although placed at the beginning of the sentence, add additional information, but do not interact grammatically with the main clause.
Each absolute construction tends to contain a noun, a modifier and a particle. The number of both may vary, but such secondary clauses tend to be simple. Verbs can be inserted into an absolute construction, but they are not necessary. The two clauses, such as “the game now over, the boys cycled home,” are always connected by a comma. In literature, absolute constructions are often difficult to use.
Such clauses are called ‘absolute’ because the clause modifies the verb and the subject of the main clause. A non-absolute construction will modify only the subject and is called a dangling participle. The subject of a sentence is the person doing the action. In the examples given above, the subjects are Lucy, the boys and the person using the personal pronoun ‘I.’
Including verbs often breaks an absolute construction into two sentences. This is most often done with the inclusion of a ‘to be’ verb in the secondary clause. This can turn “Expecting his boss to be kind, Dave tried to look innocent” into “Dave was expecting his boss to be kind. He tried to look innocent.” Both sentences relay exactly the same information, but in different grammatical styles. The most important difference, apart from the inclusion of ‘was,’ is the switching of subject-name and personal pronoun.
Breaking up absolute constructions into two sentences occurs more often in speech than in written pieces. This suggests that such constructions are a literary device rather than something found in natural speech. There are many cases, however, of the inclusion of absolute constructions in spoken English. These include sentences beginning with “all things considered” and “depending on the weather.”