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So I've recently learned about absolute phrase and wondering if we can use it with adjective like:

Lanterns hang from the branches, the night sky visible through the spaces between the leaves.

Is that correct?

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  • Have you searched for examples of such phrases? If you do, you should see what kinds of phrases can modify the nominal. In addition to "absolute phrase", you may want to search for "nominative absolute" and "absolute clause". Feb 1, 2022 at 18:45
  • @MarclnManhattan, not really. Most of them use past or present participle. Which is why I am confused about the matter.
    – Rifpan P
    Feb 1, 2022 at 19:18
  • It's not so much "an absolute clause being used with an adjective" as a verbless absolute clause.
    – BillJ
    Feb 1, 2022 at 19:39
  • @RifpanP Yes, phrases headed by present and past participles are very common in these constructions, but those headed by adjectives can modify the nominal as well. I'm surprised that you didn't find any. Your sentence is certainly correct. Feb 1, 2022 at 22:33
  • @MarcInManhattan It's actually a clause, not a phrase. To say it is headed by an adjective is misleading since that implies it is an adjective phrase, which it isn't. It's actually a verbless clause, as I explained in my answer. Further, there's no modification involved. Absolute clauses are not modifiers but supplements that are not integrated into the structure of the clause.
    – BillJ
    Feb 2, 2022 at 8:18

2 Answers 2

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Lanterns hang from the branches, [the night sky visible through the spaces between the leaves].

Preliminary point: absolutes are not modifiers but supplements, loosely attached expressions presenting supplementary non-integrated content.

They consist of non-finite clauses that contain a subject and have no syntactic link to the main clause.

Your example has no verb, and thus it's a verbless clause, though I would still call it an absolute construction; more specifically it's the verbless analogue of:

Lanterns hang from the branches, [the night sky being visible through the spaces between the leaves].

Incidentally, the verb in the absolute clause can also be a past participle, as in

That done, [she walked off without saying another word.]

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This will be a long answer, but I hope that it will also be useful for others who have similar questions.

A nominative absolute (that is the term that I prefer, although there are certainly others) has the following characteristics:

  1. It consists of a nominal phrase modified by a following adjectival phrase.
  2. It is not integrated into the syntax of the neighboring text. (It may be considered a kind of "disjunct".)

You asked about whether the adjectival phrase could be headed by an adjective, and the answer is yes. In fact, most kinds of phrases that function adjectivally can be used. Let's consider several kinds of heads.

Past participle:

Our car broken, we had to cancel the rest of the trip.

Present participle:

The car running smoothly once more, we resumed our trip.

Adjective:

Its gas tank empty, the car finally came to a stop.

Preposition:

Its radiator on the fritz, we abandoned the car.

Full infinitive:

Our destination yet to be seen, we despaired of ever arriving.

The following are rare and perhaps questionable grammatically, although I know of no rule prohibiting them.

Possessive case noun:

The car John's, I had no right to question what he wanted to do with it.

Possessive case pronoun:

The car his, John had every right to decide what he wanted to do with it.

The only such kind of phrase (i.e., one that can function adjectivally) that can not normally be used as the second element in a nominative absolute phrase, as far I'm aware, is an attributive nominal. (Attributive nominals typically precede their referents.) You might construct something like this, although I probably wouldn't consider it grammatical:

?The car's weight 1000 pounds, we didn't want to push it to our destination.

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  • I wouldn't go along with what you say on two counts: First, the term 'absolute' means that the clause (not phrase) has no syntactic link to the main clause, thus it can hardly be claimed to be adjectival. Second, regarding your point 1. there is no requirement for it to be followed by an adjective phrase. Consider these examples: That done, she walked off without saying another word. / His hands gripping the door, he let out a volley of curses. In neither of those examples is there an adjective in the absolute clause.
    – BillJ
    Feb 2, 2022 at 8:36
  • @BillJ I think there are misunderstandings in both of your points. Regarding your first point, I never claimed that the overall phrase was adjectival. (I said it could be considered a disjunct.) Regarding your second, I never said that there was an adjective in the absolute clause; I said "adjectival phrase", which is different. Feb 2, 2022 at 18:55
  • Your statement that "a nominative absolute consists of a nominal phrase modified by a following adjectival phrase ..." is simply untrue. As I said (with examples) there is no such requirement. The head of an adjective phrase is an adjective. The absence of an adjective means there's no adjective phrase.
    – BillJ
    Feb 2, 2022 at 19:25
  • @BillJ I don't know why you keep trying to criticize my use of the term "adjective phrase" when I haven't used that term once in my answer or any of the comments. "Adjective" is not the same as "adjectival" (just as "verb" is not the same as "verbal", e.g.). Feb 2, 2022 at 20:04
  • I think you did. Look at point 1. in your answer, where you say "It consists of a nominal phrase modified by a following adjectival phrase". In any case, that statement is also wrong because there is no such requirement, as the examples I gave in my first comment show.
    – BillJ
    Feb 3, 2022 at 7:40

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