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In Wikipedia I found the sentence:

The poem is well-known for its departure from Owen's famous style of including disturbing and graphic images in his work; the poem instead having a more soothing, somewhat light-hearted feel to it in comparison.

The part after the semicolon is difficult for me to understand.

I'm confused whether it's a participial clause or something else.

Please explain.

  • You're on the right lines. It is a non-finite gerund-participial clause functioning as a supplement, a loosely attached element providing non-integrated content. Non-finite supplementary clauses like this are often called 'absolute' clauses, since they are subordinate in form, contain a subject (here, "the poem") and have no syntactic link to the main clause. – BillJ Dec 29 '19 at 19:19
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<tl;dr> It's something else, namely a contributor to Wikipedia writing himself into a corner and then trying to use a punctuation mark to free himself. The basic confusion is the writer's.

The participial clause is a nominative absolute. Nominative for any subject of the participle that might be present, and absolute meaning independent of the grammar of the main clause. Let's start with a simple example:

[1a] Having previously attached his chain, the tall man towed the car away.

The absolute is loosely associated with the grammar of the main clause, serving an an adjunct to the subject man, meaning

[2a] The tall man who previously attached his chain towed the car away.

or serving as an adjunct of time to the verb, meaning

[2b] The tall man towed the car away after he had previously attached his chain.

or you may consider that the absolute is serving in both capacities.

The absolute in 1a doesn't have its own subject, and in the pre-position (at the head of the sentence), there's a strong presumption that the missing subject is the same as the subject of the main clause: the man who attached the chain and the man who towed the car away are the same person.

In the post-position (at the end of the sentence), however, we may need to rely on grammatical, semantic, or stylistic considerations to find the right subject. For the following sentence:

[1b] The tall man towed the car away, having previously attached his chain.

The car is not an option. The personal possessive pronoun doesn't apply to inanimate objects, cars don't attach chains to themselves, and the word previously directs us to earlier in the sentence, before towed.

Notice that these clues won't help in the pre-positions that we call dangling:

[1c] Having previously attached his chain, the car was towed away by the tall man.

Here we're left with the slight but ludicrous suggestion that the car attached the tall man's chain to itself.

The sentence cited by the OP would be clearer with the participial clause in pre-position:

[3a] Having a more soothing, somewhat light-hearted feel, the poem is well-known for its departure from Owen's famous style of including disturbing and graphic images in his work.

There's no doubt in this case, that it's the poem with a light-hearted fees. There's actually nothing that bars post-positioning, but the intended subject is farther away and the attachment isn't as strong. Consider the following:

[3b] The poem is well-known for its departure from Owen's famous style, instead having a more soothing, somewhat light-hearted feel.

In this truncated version, there's a slight ambiguity. What's having the light-hearted feel? "The poem" is a candidate, but so is the poem's "departure" (from Owen's usual style). The latter is closer, but either choice is apt. The problem arises with the long version in the original:

[3c] The poem is well-known for its departure from Owen's famous style of including disturbing and graphic images in his work, ___ instead having a more soothing, somewhat light-hearted feel to it in comparison.

Now the proximate referent is Owen's "disturbing and graphic images," and they are definitely not soothing and light-hearted*. So I believe the writer of the entry tried to fix things by repeating the subject, the poem, in the slot I left empty. The writer also preceded the inserted subject with a semicolon, which is a punctuation mark that can signal that a clause with its own subject is to follow. Unfortunately, that following clause should be an independent clause with a finite verb. Something like:

[3d] The poem is well-known for its departure from Owen's famous style of including disturbing and graphic images in his work; instead the poem has a more soothing, somewhat light-hearted feel to it in comparison.

(In the examples 1a-1c and 3a-3c, the nominative part is missing: the participial clause has no stated subject. Subjects are permitted and common:

[4a] His chain having been attached, the tall man towed the car away.

The association with the subject of the main clause is slightly weaker. We don't know who attached the chain. It could have been the tall man's short assistant.)


* Understatement department. Here's the first line of Owen's poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth": What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

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  • I'm not sure what you mean. Participle clauses can have their own subjects, in which case they're called absolute phrases or, as you say, nominative absolutes. For example: Rain pouring against the window, they floated through the night sky. I'm not sure if it's strictly grammatical to set off an absolute phrase with any other punctuation mark than a comma, but it happens. This girl ... is unrecognizable. Her features eradicated, her limbs three times their normal size. – athlonusm Dec 28 '19 at 9:30
  • @athlonusm It's too late here for me to be sure what I mean. Your "rain pouring" example is dangling, figuratively and grammatically. And it's two syllables short of a haiku. Punctuation is not part of grammar. It's a matter of style, no two manuals of which agree on everything. Your last example is disturbing in its non-standard punctuation and disturbing period. But I think there are two absolutes with their own subjects, which will give me a starting point to correct my answer. After I've slept, perchance not to have had nightmares about this girl. – user105719 Dec 28 '19 at 10:06
  • @athlonusm Would you do me the favor of checking my attempts at clarity and let me know if I've failed to fix errors or introduced more. Thanks for your comment last night, and thanks in advance for any editorial help you offer. – user105719 Dec 29 '19 at 0:05
  • 1) My first example is from this article. It doesn't have any context. My second example is from The Hunger Games. The book is written in an informal style, so, as I said, I don't know if it's formally correct to set off absolute phrases with any other punctuation marks. I'd stick to commas, just to be safe. The ellipsis in that example is mine, by the way. – athlonusm Dec 29 '19 at 15:25
  • 2) I'm not sure if it's correct to call a participle clause a nominative absolute, but apparently some people use this term that way (and even argue with those who disagree). Here's what The Cambridge GEL (p. 1265-6) and A Comprehensive GEL (p. 1220-1) say about absolute constructions: i.imgur.com/hlxqoHi.png and i.imgur.com/NgRaRIw.png. See also this article. – athlonusm Dec 29 '19 at 15:25

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