KISS Level 5.8 - Noun Absolutes
Noun Absolutes are the last construction that
students need to learn. They are rarely discussed in grammar textbooks,
simply because one needs to be able to identify clauses and verbals before
absolutes make much sense. A noun absolute consists of a noun plus a gerundive.
The adverbial function of absolutes, as in the following sentence from
Beauty, is universally accepted by grammarians.
So we went on, John chuckling all the way home.
Frequently, the gerundive "being" is ellipsed, as in the following from
Theodore Dreiser's "The Lost Phoebe":
He fell asleep after a time, his head *being* on his knees.
That noun absolutes also function as nouns
is generally ignored or denied by many grammarians, probably because they
don't read enough or think. One of the reasons for their failures is that
academics, generally, are too much influenced by scientific fields in which
"new information" is crucial. Thus, even though he is acknowledged as one
of the two greatest early twentieth century grammarians, graduate students
in English or Linguistics rarely study the work of George O. Curme.
In Volume II of his A Grammar of the English
Language (Essex, Conn. Verbatin, 1931, 1986), Curme discusses the Nominative
Absolute in Subject Clauses, and gives, among his examples,
She and her sister both being sick makes hard work
for the rest of the family. (157)
Despite the differences in grammatical terminology, "She and her sister
both being sick" is a noun absolute that functions as the subject of "makes."
Curme also gives an example of what we can
call a noun absolute used as a predicate noun:
Cities are man justifying himself to God. (158)
The key question here is meaning. In other words, if we tried to consider
"man" as a predicate noun, the explanation would suggest that "Cities"
= "man" modified by the gerundive "justifying." But the "justifying" is
just as important as is "man." And the equal importance of "man" and "justifying"
is better explained grammatically by considering "man justifying himself"
as a noun absolute construction.
Curme also gives examples of what we can consider
noun absolutes that function as 1.) an object of a preposition, and 2.)
1.) She is lonesome with her husband so much away. (155)
He does not give examples of the noun absolute functioning as a direct
object, but if we accept his logic and other examples, it is easy to see
many such cases. A simple example is the following sentence from Black
2.) Well, that is just our way, exactly -- one half of the administration
always busy getting the family into trouble, the other half busy
getting it out again. (158) [From Mark Twain]
I don't like to see them held up.
To say that "them" is the direct object of "don't like" is surely contrary
to the meaning of the sentence. What isn't liked is "them *being* held
up." If we want a descriptive grammar that aligns the grammar with meaning,
the noun absolute that functions as a noun is a very sensible construction.
A Question of Interpretation?
In some cases, the difference between explaining
a construction as a noun absolute or as a noun modified by a gerundive
may be a question of interpretation. Consider the following part of a sentence
from The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes:
Phil Marsham … watched men stripped to the waist and moving
deftly among the guns ….
“Men” can be described as the direct object of “watched,” and “stripped”
as a gerundive that modifies “men.” But “men stripped” might also be explained
as a noun absolute that functions as the direct object of “watched.” Viewing
it as a noun absolute, however, suggests that one is watching the men being
stripped (the action), whereas viewing “stripped” as a gerundive suggests
that the action has finished and one is watching men who have been stripped.
"Men . . . moving," however, does make sense, perhaps more sense when viewed
as a noun absolute. As part of an absolute "moving" becomes part of the
direct object. In other words, what was watched was not just the men, but
also their movement.
A Preview of the Exercises
The first exercises (1. a, b, and c)
focus on identifying noun absolutes that function as adverbs. The second
exercise is stylistic. It asks students to rewrite noun absolutes as clauses
and then clauses as noun absolutes. For example:
Subordinate Clause: While
his feet were sinking into the mud, Jim sloshed along the creekbed.
Exercises three (a ? b) explore noun absolutes that function as
nouns, and the last exercises (four a ? b) are passages for analysis.
Noun Absolute: His feet sinking
into the mud, Jim sloshed along the creekbed.
Note that you can fruitfully extend these
exercises by asking students to find (and/or write) sentences that include
|Suggested Directions for Analytical Exercises
1. Put parentheses ( ) around each prepositional phrase.
| The following directions should enable
students to explain every word in any text. Students who have been working
within the KISS Approach will have been using almost all of these “Directions,”
ideally for a few years. Thus, most of this should be automatic for them.
You can, of course, reduce the directions in several ways, one being skipping
the functions of clauses and verbals, and another being to limit # 5 just
to noun absolutes.
2. Underline subjects once, finite verbs twice, and label complements
("PN," "PA," "IO," "DO").
3. Place brackets around each subordinate clause. If the clause functions
as a noun, label its function above the opening bracket. If it functions
as an adjective or adverb, draw an arrow from the opening bracket to the
word that the clause modifies. Put a vertical line at the end of every
4. Put a box around every gerund and gerundive. If it is a gerund (i.e.,
it functions as a noun) indicate its function over the box. If it is a
gerundive, draw an arrow to the word it modifies. Put an oval around every
infinitive and indicate (as in three above) its function.
5. Use the following labels for the additional constructions:
NuA -- Noun used as an Adverb
App -- Appositive
Inj -- Interjection
DirA -- Direct Address
DS -- Delayed Subject
PPA -- Post-Positioned Adjective
Put an “R” before complements that are retained (RDO, RPN, RPA)
NAbs -- Noun Absolute (Put a wavy line under each noun absolute and
label its function.
|Probable Time Required
This is the last construction that students
need to learn in order to explain the function of “every” word in any sentence.
Thus you can take as much time as you want or need. Students who have learned
to identify the other construction in real texts should have few, if any,
problems with noun absolutes.
Rewriting Sentences by Using
4 (a-b) A Passage for Analysis
Not Included in the Grade-Level Books
| The exercises below were developed before
the new organization of the grade-level books, and they do not fit the
as Direct Objects
as Objects of Prepositions
- Appositives or Noun Absolutes?