1

Would it be okay to mix absolute and participle phrases at the beginning of a sentence?

1- Sun shining, clouds smiling, climbing down a tree in glee, Sluggy, a happy, purple slug, strolls along to the blood-red, big berry in our yard.

If that is okay, how about swapping (as in 3) with adjectives or adding (as in 2) to the question?

2- Sun shining, clouds smiling, climbing down a tree in glee, hungry and slow, Sluggy, a happy, purple slug, strolls along to the blood-red, big berry in our yard.

3- Sun shining, clouds smiling, hungry and slow, Sluggy, a happy, purple slug, strolls along to the blood-red, big berry in our yard.

I have the impression that it is a matter of style not grammar. At any rate, is that against [accepted] style conventions to do that?

PS. I know they do not sound idiomatic especially with cramming many phrases into the sentence, so ignore the craft of word choice, please; I am only interested in sizing sentence structure and I put the words together just to illustrate the point.

1

Sun shining, clouds smiling, climbing down a tree in glee, Sluggy, a happy, purple slug, strolls along to the blood-red, big berry in our yard.

This isn't correct, and not just because of style; there are at least several sentences in here, all mashed together. Plus some smaller issues that I'll get to at the end.

There are two major problems that I see here. The first one is that the description of the environment is inappropriately connected to Sluggy. "Sun shining, clouds smiling" -- these clauses don't describe Sluggy, so they need to be separated from Sluggy. One simple alternative is to just create a new sentence:

The sun was shining and the clouds were smiling. Sluggy, a happy purple slug...

Or, the description of the environment could go in a clause:

Under a shining sun and smiling clouds, Sluggy, a happy purple slug...

There are going to be quite a few commas in that sentence once it's complete, though; it may feel clunky even if it's grammatically correct.

There are other ways to do this, too - but the point is that unless the description applies to Sluggy, the description needs to be separated from Sluggy.

The second problem is that Sluggy is doing two actions in the same sentence: "climbing down a tree" and "strolls along". If you're going to have two verbs in the same sentence, then at a minimum they need to match in tense:

He was walking and talking at the same time.

So at a minimum, Sluggy's two verbs need to match their tense. However, even if the tenses matched, "climbing" and "strolling" aren't really two activities that can be done at the same time. How could Sluggy be climbing down the tree while also strolling to the berry? It sounds like Sluggy would be climbing down first, then strolling to the berry. In that case, these two actions should be two clauses, or two sentences:

Sluggy climbed down the tree with glee, then strolled along...

Now, a few nit-picky things:

  1. Clouds can't smile. (Of course, if this is an illustrated children's book, they can.)
  2. "Stroll" is a form of "walk"; slugs don't walk, they "crawl".
  3. "Stroll" and "glee" also don't really go together. If Sluggy is so intent on getting to the berry, why would Sluggy stroll to the berry? A "stroll" is a leisurely walk; I'm only going to stroll if I'm not in a hurry. If Sluggy is hungry, (s)he probably won't be strolling, even if (s)he's moving slowly.

Finally:

the blood-red, big berry

The order should be "big, blood-red berry". The order of adjectives matters in English, and size comes before color.

(Source: Cambridge Dictionary.)

  • Thank you Matt for the detailed answer. I like breaking down sentences and examining every bit. However, I need more time to study it and do some more research as well when I get done what is on my plate. – learner Feb 14 '17 at 16:59
  • I couldn't wait to have a sneak peek on absolute phrases, here's a sentence that has an absolute phrase that is similar to mine. Would you be kind to have an analytic look at it: The sun shining bright and the pale blue sky forming a backdrop of the Sacre Coeur, Carl stepped into his future as a traveler and observer. TestMagic – learner Feb 14 '17 at 18:47
  • Ok, thanks for clarifying, @learner. The short answer to your original question is: no, an absolute phrase should not be mixed with a participle phrase; those phrases do different things. An absolute phrase is usually used to do one of two things: provide a detail about the subject of the sentence, or explain why the sentence is happening. In the example with Carl, the absolute phrase describes what Carl is stepping into. – Matt Cline Feb 15 '17 at 17:58
  • 1
    For the sentence about Sluggy, if you wanted to keep the absolute phrase, I'd suggest "Under a shining sun and smiling clouds, Sluggy..." Using "under" makes a clearer relationship between the absolute phrase and the rest of the sentence. – Matt Cline Feb 15 '17 at 17:58
  • This is a very interesting example because it combines a participial phrase and three absolute phrases that use different grammatical structures themselves. "Bolenciecwcz was staring at the floor now, trying to think, his great brow furrowed, his huge hands rubbing together, his face red." (James Thurber, "University Days") – learner Feb 18 '17 at 20:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.