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When an absolute phrase is described as a phrase/clause (as was in the below example) what is meant by this. Is it not clearly one or the other ? I'd imagine phrase as there is no subject.

The winter is set to be very cold this year as temperatures are set to plummet, the cold temperatures risking taking the lives of many.

How would you describe this bolded part of the sentence ?

The vehicles handling was smooth and the breaks sharp, but the cars interior is dated in style, a regular fault in these models, that despite having its fans, just doesn't work for me.

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The winter is set to be very cold this year as temperatures are set to plummet, the cold temperatures risking taking the lives of many.

It seems currently fashionable to consider "the cold temperatures" as the subject of "risking", with "taking the lives of many" as some sort of complement. That would make "the cold temperatures risking taking the lives of many" a non-finite clause, probably an absolute non-finite clause.

The more traditional of us see "risking taking the lives of many" as a modifier of "the cold temperatures", where "taking the lives of many" is the direct object of "risking". That would make "the cold temperatures risking taking the lives of many" an absolute noun phrase.

Both frameworks see that entire string of words as some coherent structure, and both frameworks see this structure in a similar relationship with one of the finite clauses in the sentence. However, the two frameworks simply do not agree on the nature and composition of this structure. What one insists is merely a phrase, the other concludes is fully a clause.

Call it a phrase or a clause as befits the framework you use.

 

. . . the cars interior is dated in style, a regular fault in these models that, despite having its fans, just doesn't work for me.

This is also a long and involved absolute construction.

Just "a regular fault in these models" is enough to establish an absolute phrase under a traditional framework. I have no idea whether the possibility of whiz insertion allows others to regard this as a clause: "a regular fault which is in these models".

However, in your example that construction doesn't even need to stand on its own. It's further modified by a relative clause: "a regular fault in these models that just doesn't work for me". Additionally, that relative clause is interrupted by a parenthetical prepositional phrase: "a regular fault in these models that, despite having its fans, just doesn't work for me".

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