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Building Sentences with Absolute Phrases

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Among the modifiers that are used to add information to sentences, the absolute phrase may be the least common but one of the most useful.

Identifying Absolute Phrases

An absolute phrase is a word group that modifies an entire sentence. It consists of a noun plus at least one other word, as shown here:

The hunters rested for a moment in front of the shack, their breaths white in the frosty air.
The noun (breaths) that begins this absolute phrase is followed by an adjective (white) and a prepositional phrase (in the frosty air).

In addition to adjectives and prepositional phrases, adverbs and participles can also follow the noun in an absolute phrase. As the sentence above shows, an absolute phrase lets us move from a description of a whole person, place, or thing to just one or more parts: from hunters, for instance, to their breaths.

Building and Arranging Absolute Phrases

Consider how the sentence just seen might be brokn down into two sentences:

The hunters rested for a moment in front of the shack.
Their breaths were white in the frosty air.
The second sentence, we see, can be turned into an absolute phrase simply by omitting the linking verb were. As we have seen, the absolute phrase may appear at the end of a sentence:
The hunters rested for a moment in front of the shack, their breaths white in the frosty air.
The absolute phrase may also appear at the beginning of the sentence:
Their breaths white in the frosty air, the hunters rested for a moment in front of the shack.
And occasionally an absolute phrase is positioned between the subject and verb:
The hunters, their breaths white in the frosty air, rested for a moment in front of the shack.
Notice that an absolute phrase, like a participle phrase, is usually set off from the rest of the sentence by a pair of commas.

NEXT: Revising Sentences with Absolute Phrases

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