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Noun Function 10 - Noun Absolutes

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And now we reach the end of the list and find one of the most potent structures the English language makes available to aspiring writers.

But before visiting noun absolutes, let’s review. Here’s the list of the 10 functions of nouns. Notice that Functions 1-5 require the presence of a verb. Notice that Function 6 requires the presence of a preposition. Then notice that Functions 7-10 are independent functions enabling the noun to stick directly onto sentences without the help of verbs or prepositions:

1. Subjects of Sentences

2. Subject Complements (“Predicate Nouns” or “Predicate Nominatives”)

3. Direct Objects of Transitive Verbs

4. Objects of Verbal Phrases

5. Indirect Objects

6. Objects of Prepositions

7. Noun Appositives

8. Noun Modifiers

9. Noun Adverbs

10. Noun Absolutes

Now, Noun Absolutes

You cannot read an award-winning novel and fail to find oodles of noun absolutes. Neither can you listen to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, ESPN’s Sports Center, or CNN’s Moneyline and not hear an array of these structures. All good writers use noun absolutes, so it’ll pay you to learn what they’re all about.

Before discussing this structure, let me provide an example.

10. Noun Absolutes

And finally, our model sentence shows the 10th function of the noun, the noun absolute:

The professor, John Smith, is the noun expert, so yesterday he gave the class his views on the importance of learning to write papers clearly, his studentsfeverishly taking notes on all he said.

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A Phrase

Basically, a noun absolute is a phrase. It is therefore not a clause. Thus, it does not have a conjugated verb in it. It might very well have a verbal, in the form of a present participle (‑ing verb), past participle (‑ed verb), or sometimes an infinitive (to verb).

Anchoring the structure is a noun (or a pronoun) (students in the model sentence above). Usually—but not always—this noun or pronoun points directly to a referent in the sentence.

Opportunity to Use

The opportunity to use noun absolutes typically arises when you’ve stated a plurality, that is, you’ve identified a bunch of things or circumstances, and you then want to give some examples. If you’re an ESPN sports announcer, you might say:

Several top seeds bit the dust last night. Duke lost to Florida, and Kansas fell to Seton Hall.

The “top seeds” is your plurality. Duke’s and Florida’s losses are your examples. Look how the noun absolute condenses everything into a single sentence:

Several top seeds bit the dust last night, Duke losing to Florida and Kansas falling to Seton Hall.

Hard Copy

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How to Form Noun Absolutes

The noun absolute comes in five different forms. Basically, the structure consists of a noun (or pronoun) plus five types of words or phrases, four describing the noun, one restating it. We might call the noun or pronoun starting the noun absolute the anchor noun or the anchor pronoun.

Commit to memory these examples of the five basic types of noun absolutes. The anchor nouns (or anchor pronouns) starting the structure appear in bold, the added structure in bold italic.

1. Noun + True Adjective or Adjectival Phrase

His research complete, he began to write his report.

Her face red with embarrassment, the Senator finally found her place in her notes and continued her speech, the crowd uneasy with her discomfort.

Notice in these first examples two of the noun absolutes have referents in the sentence. The phrase his research complete refers to the word he in the sentence. The phrase her face red with embarrassment refers to the Senator.

But look at the noun-absolute phrase ending the second example. The phrase the crowd uneasy with her discomfort has no referent in the sentence. So a noun-absolute phrase usually—but not always—refers to another noun or pronoun in the main sentence.

2. Noun + Present Participle (-ing verb)

The parties raised $500,000, the founder paying $400,000, the others contributing $100,000.

His tires screeching on the pavement, John braked to avoid the pedestrian.

3. Noun + Past Participle (-ed verb or irregular form, e.g., said)

These issues resolved, the agency turned its attention to other matters.

That said, the chair then turned her attention to the treasurer’s report.

His face twisted in hatred, the killer wildly hurled the hammer at his victim’s head.

4. Noun + Prepositional Phrase

In one of my writing courses presented at a federal agency, I was explaining the noun absolute to a class of lawyers. One of the lawyers said, “Well, I’m currently working on a novel. I like to pattern my style after Hemingway’s, and I can’t imagine that he’d use such a structure.”

The issue was joined, as lawyers are wont to say.

I didn’t have to do much homework. Here’s the first sentence in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls:

“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.”

5. Noun + Noun

The final type of noun absolute differs from the first four. The first four added structures that modify the anchor noun. But the fifth type of noun absolute adds a noun that restates the anchor noun. This restating noun acts somewhat like a noun appositive, but it is not set off with an additional comma.

Our opponent has chosen to ignore scientific principles, his theories a wish list of insupportable propositions.

The defendant knew he’d survive the trial, his sister the only witness to the murder.

Hard Copy

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Widely Known in Our Language

Many of these structures have become widely known sayings in our language, our culture, and even our law. In the following examples, the noun or pronoun appears in bold italic, the added structure in bold:

All things considered, the business managed to survive.

Other things being equal, the proposition will withstand scrutiny.

Weather permitting, we’ll convene the class in the park.

The case was televised to the world, Judge Ito presiding.

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” U.S. Constitution, Second Amendment.

Right now, you should tuck away a thought for the chapter on clause-cutting in the eBook Developing a Powerful Writing Style: “Word War IV: Clauses vs. Phrases.” Look at the five structures we add to a noun or pronoun to yield the five types of noun absolutes. Commit them to memory:

1. adjective or adjectival phrase 2. present-participial phrase (‑ing phrase) 3. past-participial phrase (‑ed phrase) 4. prepositional phrase 5. noun appositive

In Developing a Powerful Writing Style, you’ll learn about the fine art of clause-cutting. We’ll see that the same five structures appear with clauses using the verb to be. We’ll also see that they reappear in another powerful structure, the truncated clause.

Stay tuned.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

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