I'm trying to learn how to break apart sentences and understand each part's name and what exactly it does (excuse my ignorance; I've read quite a bit, but I'm still new at it). I came across the following construction and, simple as it seems, I can't figure out what it's called. I thought it might be considered an absolute phrase, but those are usually defined as having a participle. So what would the second half of these sentences be considered and what is their function? Am I way off base? Are these even grammatical? Thanks!

Hens are stuffed into tiny cages, unable to lift their wings.

He moved unsteadily, clumsy enough to fall at any moment.

  • 1
    Yes, they are grammatical. At the simplest, the parts share a common phrase. "Hens are stuffed into tiny cages. (Therefore,/ So badly that) Hens are unable to lift their wings."
    – Kris
    Aug 6, 2013 at 6:25
  • 1
    Those aren't absolute clauses, because they modify something, namely hens and he, respectively. An absolutely clauses does not modify a specific phrase, but rather the entire sentence or nothing. Sep 29, 2013 at 23:01
  • They are parenthetical, but they aren't absolute because the phrase lacks a subject. They fall under the [reduced] free modifier category, which lacks subject and tense -- the verb is a participle, but since it is copular ("[being] clumsy") the participle is omitted (reduced).
    – AmI
    Nov 27, 2017 at 21:56

3 Answers 3


These are dependent clauses, which are being used as modifiers applied to the subject of each sentence. They function in the way an adjective functions; they describe nouns.

They don't need a participle to be grammatical. They are grammatical except that in the first sentence the clause is awkwardly placed, creating what is often called a misplaced modifier (also called a dangling modifier and other names as well). The reason it is misplaced it that it seems to modify or describe the cages, rather than the hens (that is, it seems to be saying that the cages are unable to lift their wings). There are many ways to fix this. One possibility would be this: "The hens are unable to lift their wings once they are stuffed into the tiny cages."


Absolute phrases don't always have to contain a participle.

Check this explanation out.

In your example, the participle "being" is omitted, as it usually is in absolute phrases.


These are not clauses, nor are they absolute phrases — they are adjectival phrases.

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