I WAS asked this seemingly simple grammar question last week by a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum who goes by the username Baklis: “While reading your book English Plain and Simple, I came across one of the forms of the absolute phrase—the passive perfect participle. Will you please tell me how it works?”
That question isn’t simple by any measure, though, for the absolute phrase is arguably one of the most knotty and perplexing grammatical forms in English. There’s just no way to explain how it works with the passive perfect participle—itself a tough grammatical nut to crack, so to speak—unless we have a clear idea of how the participle works to begin with.
So, to answer the question of Baklis, I decided to do a quick but wide-ranging review of the participle and how its various forms work with the absolute phrase to modify sentences.
Here are the salient points of that review:
Recall that a participle is a form of the verb that works as an adjective and at the same time exhibits such features of the verb as tense, voice (active or passive), and the capacity to take an object. It is of two kinds: the present participle and the past participle.
The present participle expresses present action in relation to the time expressed by the verb in its clause; it is typically formed by adding the suffix “-ing” to the verb’s base form. For example, in the sentence “The witness made a shocking revelation during the corruption hearings,” the word “shocking” is a present participle formed by adding the suffix “-ing” to the verb “shock.” Here, “shocking” functions as an adjective modifying the noun “revelation.”
The past participle, on the other hand, expresses completed action; it is used in forming the perfect tenses in the active voice and all the tenses in the passive voice. Typically, but not always, it ends with the suffix “-ed.” For example, in the sentence “After hearing the astounding testimony of the star witness, the shocked audience remained silent all throughout the court proceedings,” the word “shocked” is a past participle formed by adding the suffix “-ed” to the verb “shock.” Here, “shocked” functions as an adjective modifying the noun “audience.”
Now, an absolute phrase normally consists of a participle and a noun or pronoun that it modifies; together, they form a type of phrase that doesn’t directly connect to or modify any particular word of the main clause. This phrase, which functions as an independent parenthetical element modifying the main clause, is capable of adding information and providing context or texture to the sentence as a whole.
Always keep this in mind about the absolute phrase: it differs from other types of modifying phrases in that it contains a subject that’s typically modified by a participle specifying a particular circumstance, reason, or time element. Below are four examples showing precisely how this grammatical form works, with each sentence modified by an absolute phrase using a different kind of participle:
1. Absolute phrase with present participle: “Her eyes welling with tears, the perennial best actress nominee accepted her first acting trophy ever.”
2. Absolute phrase with past participle: “Our business partnership sealed with a contract, we made a toast to the success of the new company.”
3. Absolute phrase with unstated participle form: “His five-year tour of duty with the company [being]over, the consultant bade adieu to its top executives.”
4. Absolute phrase with 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.”
Next week, I will discuss how the absolute phrase using a passive perfect participle in Example 4 above is formed and how it works to modify the main clause.
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