I was reading an article on modifiers [citation needed], but some of the sentences confused me.

1) Slender and graceful, her eyes filling with tears, Brenda completed her skating routine, her long hair whipped by her speed.

What type of sentence is this? why is "slender and graceful" at the beginning of the sentence? I know this sentence is related to "absolute phrase".

2) Gray-bearded and toothless, dressed in jockey shorts and a stash bag, he walked up and down the sidewalk, restlessly waiting to begin.

Same type like the first one, but it's related to a participle, isn't it?

3) Frightened, confused, giggling hysterically, Lucille collapsed into the nearest fountain.

Maybe here the writer wanted to say: Lucille was frightened, confused and was giggling hysterically, so she collapsed into the nearest fountain. If it so, my question is: Is it correct to write present and past participle in a raw?

Could somebody explain these sentences to me?

  • 2
    The adjectives are moved to a phrase at the head of the sentence to give them a position of prominence. It is a story-telling device which occurs rarely in conversation. frightened means "to be in a state of fright". It has no tense, and so there's no problem when it appears next to giggling. Dec 19, 2016 at 11:26
  • 1
    "Exhausted, and limping off the field, the losing team went to the locker rooms." "Delighted, jumping up and down, the small child screamed out." These past-participles of verbs all express state of mind/body and are understood as adjectives when they are not in the presence of a prepositional phrase. "Delighted by the news, the new father-to-be kissed his wife." And even then they are not really processed as true passives when they are used in adjuncts. "Struck by lightning, the tree was on fire". Dec 19, 2016 at 11:41
  • @TRomano Are they related to something called adjective cluster? Can you tell me in detail?
    – dz420
    Dec 19, 2016 at 12:56
  • Could you tell us which article you were reading? Also, explain what you mean by "present and past participle in a raw" (what does raw mean here? it is usually an adjective but you seem to be using it as a noun)
    – James K
    Dec 19, 2016 at 20:45
  • @James K I was reading this niu.edu/wac/archives/files/freemod.html article. I meant ( Frightened, confused, giggling hysterically) as past and present participle phrase for the number (3). Maybe "in a raw" isn't the right word. I just meant to say whether it's possible to use "past and present participle phrases together [Frightened, giggling ] ". There is no cause to think that they are noun.
    – dz420
    Dec 20, 2016 at 1:28

1 Answer 1


To answer the direct question: yes, it is correct.

The descriptions are adjective clusters and they may appear before or after the noun they modify.

The first example could have been written as so:

Brenda, slender and graceful, her eyes filling with tears, completed her skating routine, her long hair whipped by her speed.

The same sentence modeled as you suggested would read:

Brenda was slender and graceful, her eyes were filling with tears and she completed her skating routine, as her long hair was whipped by her speed.

This modification would convey the same meaning. The original is less verbose. Which you'd choose would depend on what style you were trying to convey.

  • Could you explain another two sentences [2 and 3]?
    – dz420
    Dec 20, 2016 at 6:27

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