An absolute phrase is a group of words that forms part of a sentence, to which it doesn’t need a conjunction to join. It consists of a subject or a noun, a participle, and a modifier, but it does not have a finite verb. Without a finite verb, an absolute phrase cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. The participle can be a past participle or present participle, which may not be present in an absolute phrase. An absolute phrase functions as a modifier of an independent clause (main clause) or entire sentence, and in doing so gives further information. It is separated by a comma, and its removal does not affect the grammar of the sentence.



Examples of absolute phrases shown in bold

  • His knife in hand, the deranged man threatened to slit the policeman’s throat.
    (knife = noun; his, in hand = modifiers) 
  • The girls standing side by side, they sang the national anthem loudly together. 
    (girl = noun; standing = participle; side by side = modifier)
  • The putrid smell of the carrion having attracted a group of vultureswe decided to spend the day taking photographs of the birds.
    (In the sentence, the absolute phrase The putrid smell of the carrion having attracted a group of vultures is followed by a comma, and consists of the noun smell modified by the participial phrase having attracted a group of vultures.) 


An absolute phrase may come at the beginning, in the middle (between the subject and the verb), or at the end of a sentence.

  • Praying for lasting world peace, the long-bearded cult members gathered on the beach.
  • The long-bearded cult members gathered on the beach, praying for lasting world peace.
  • The long-bearded cult members, praying for lasting world peace, gathered on the beach.



Converting an absolute phrase into a complete sentence 

This requires a change or addition of the/a verb and an addition of a conjunction to form a compound sentence. As can be seen, an absolute phrase needs to be attached to a complete sentence.

  • A dark shadow appearing from behind the tree, she screamed and ran.
  • A dark shadow appeared from behind the tree, so she screamed and ran. 
  • The escaped prisoner still at large, the residents shut their doors tight.
  • The escaped prisoner was still at large, and the residents shut their doors tight. 
  • The politician has many bad habits, with lying being one of them.
  • The politician has many bad habits, and lying is one of them.