• How an absolute phrase with a passive perfect participle works

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    IN last week’s column, I did a quick review of the participle and absolute phrase to lay the groundwork for answering this admittedly knotty question: How does an absolute phrase using a passive perfect participle work to modify a sentence?

    This question was asked by Baklis, a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, after he came across this sentence in my 2005 book English Plain and Simple: “The three-week war having been won with a terrible loss of lives, the victors entered the vanquished national capital with a sense of unease.” Here, I classified the modifying phrase “the three-week war having been won with a terrible loss of lives” as an absolute phrase using a passive perfect participle.

    To put things in better perspective, let’s backtrack to this sentence that I presented last week as an example of past participle usage: “After hearing the astounding testimony of the star witness, the shocked audience remained silent all throughout the court proceedings.” Here, the word “shocked” is a past participle that functions as an adjective modifying the noun “audience.”

    Take note that in the sentence above, the main clause “the shocked audience remained silent all throughout the court proceeding” is in the active voice and it’s modified by the prepositional phrase “after hearing the astounding testimony of the star witness.” Now this question may well be asked: What happens if the modifying phrase is in the passive voice instead?

    The answer is that the past participle gets transformed into a present perfect participle, which has the form “having been + past participle of the verb,” as in this new construction: “Having been shocked by the astounding testimony of the star witness, the audience remained silent all throughout the court proceedings.” Here, the present perfect participial phrase “having been shocked by the astounding testimony of the star witness” functions as an adjectival phrase modifying the noun “audience” in the main clause.

    Note that within itself, the present perfect participial phrase “having been shocked by the astounding testimony of the star witness” doesn’t have a subject. It’s a stand-alone adjectival phrase that modifies a subject elsewhere in the sentence—specifically the noun “audience” in the main clause.

    Now let’s see how the present perfect participial phrase in that sentence—“having been shocked by the astounding testimony of the star witness”—can be transformed into an absolute phrase that uses the passive perfect participle.

    To effect the transformation, we need to supply that present perfect participial phrase with a subject. In the sentence construction at hand, it’s clear that this can readily be done by moving the subject “audience” from the main clause to the modifying phrase, as follows: “The audience having been shocked by the astounding testimony of the star witness, they remained silent all throughout the court proceedings.”

    We can see above that the modifying phrase has become an absolute phrase using a passive perfect participle. It now that functions as an adverbial modifier of the new main clause “they remained silent all throughout the court proceedings” instead of as an adjectival phrase modifying the subject of the original main clause “the audience remained silent all throughout the court proceedings.”

    That new construction has the same pattern as the example I presented in my
    book of a sentence modified by an absolute phrase using a passive perfect participle: “The three-week war having been won with a terrible loss of lives, the victors entered the vanquished national capital with a sense of unease.” The main clause is modified by an absolute phrase consisting of “the three-week war” as subject along with the passive perfect participial phrase “having been won with a terrible loss of lives.”

    Together, they form an adverbial phrase modifying the main clause “the victors entered the vanquished national capital with a sense of unease.”

    Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

    j8carillo@yahoo.com

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