I am working on a project, and I am faced with a sentence that I am unsure is correct. I can make it correct with proper punctuation, but it just made me curious to learn how to use such sentences appropriately with different punctuation. The sentence in question is bolded below:

"He is another example of immortality. His body holding the ability to survive anything."

Is this a correct sentence without adding "is holding" or writing "holds?" If so, what is this sentence structure called, as it appears to omit the auxiliary verb "to be?" I could bypass it by using a comma, but I am curious. In my head, this sentence has the same structure of sentences such as:

"What do you see? - A woman holding a baby."

It appears to be a continuous sentence but without the auxiliary verb. It's not gerund, at least I don't think it is. Any help is appreciated!

  • 2
    Neither of your bolded examples are complete sentences - they are noun phrases. Mar 15, 2021 at 13:04
  • 3
    It's important to note that a woman holding a baby isn't a "sentence" - it's a noun phrase. It's just that in your cited context (someone being asked what they see), it's possible to reply with only the noun phrase, rather than the "full sentence" complete with "subject" and "verb" for which that noun phrase is the "object": I see a woman holding a baby. Mar 15, 2021 at 13:06

3 Answers 3


It's a present participle used adjectivally - a concept gramatically a little similar to a gerund in that it's an -ing form of a verb that's (in this case) not used as a verb to form a continuous tense, but where gerunds function as nouns, participles such as the ones in your examples function as adjectives.


"A woman holding a baby" is not a complete sentence. As a response to the question, "What do you see?", the meaning is clear. The speaker means, "I SEE a woman holding a baby." In ordinary speech we can leave out the subject and the verb because they are obvious from context. You don't always need a complete, grammatically correct sentence to convey meaning. But it's not a complete sentence.

Likewise, "His body holding the ability to survive anything" is not a complete sentence. I presume you mean, "His body IS holding ..." (Side note: "holding" is a strange word to use here. I'm not sure what the intended meaning is. You probably mean, "His body is acquiring the ability .." or something like that.) You could get away with this sentence in the sense that a reader would likely figure out what you meant, but it's not grammatically correct.

Let me emphasize that a reader or listener may be able to figure out what you meant from a grammatically incorrect sentence, but that doesn't make it correct. Like if I said, "Me goes to store place nowly", you could probably figure out that I mean, "I am going to the store now" ... but it's very bad grammar.


He is another example of immortality. His body holding the ability to survive anything.

What do you see? - A woman holding a baby.

As commented, both of your bolded expressions are not sentences but are noun phrases.

Noun phrases are sometimes used in informal speeches, as in the baby example, explained by Jay in his answer and @FumbleFingers in his comments.

In the 1st example, his body holding the ability to survive anything is a noun phrase, an absolute phrase. Such a phrase can be used to describe an entire clause. The writer attempted to use it but did not get the punctuation right.

ifioque describes an absolute phrase as

a special phrase that consists of a noun or pronoun followed and modified by some kind of modifier, usually a participle or a participial phrase.

The horse loped across the yard, her foal trailing behind her.

An absolute phrase can follow or precede the clause it is modifying:

He is another example of immortality, his body holding the ability to survive anything.

His body holding the ability to survive anything, he is another example of immortality.

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