I read the following definition for accusative absolute, but the many syntactical terms (based on Latin) confound me: accusative and nominative absolute.

a construction in English, especially colloquial English, consisting of a pronoun in the accusative case joined with a predicate that does not include a finite verb and otherwise identical with the nominative absolute (as him being my friend in “him being my friend, I granted his request”)

I first heard this at 54:31 in this Youtube video.


3 Answers 3


The accusative is a noun case in various languages including German and Latin and Greek; as applied to English the term denotes the objective case, shown in personal pronouns me, him, her, us, and them (in contradistinction to the subjective case, sometimes termed nominative, of I, he, she, we, and they).

An absolute construction is a way of tying an extra statement to a sentence while remaining rather vague about its relation with the statement made by the main clause. The grammatical transformation involves substituting a participle (in English characteristically the present participle, the -ing form) for the main verb of the extra statement:

Helen assigned the task to Rosa. [this will be the main clause]

John was away from the office. [this is the extra statement]

John being away from the office, Helen assigned the task to Rosa.

Helen assigned the task to Rosa, John being away from the office.

We don’t know if Helen is filling in for the absent John as boss, or if she is always boss but would have assigned this task to John had he been around, or just what if anything would have happened differently had he been around.

Another example is the much-disputed Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (here with slightly modernized punctuation):

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.

Here it is a matter of long dispute whether the absolute, here the italicized portion, merely justifies what the main clause decrees [because a well regulated militia is necessary] or limits its application [insofar as a well regulated militia is necessary].

Sometimes the actual present participle can be omitted as understood:

My wife came out to me in the garden, her face [being] a mask of grief.

In none of these examples can we see the case of the absolute’s grammatical subject, whether it be subjective or objective. For in English, case becomes manifest only with personal pronouns. So now let us revisit the first example, supposing a context that is largely about John, so that instead of using his name we now use he or him.

He being out of the office, Helen assigned the task to Rosa.

Him being out of the office, Helen assigned the task to Rosa.

The first version, using the subjective pronoun He, exemplifies what is sometimes termed a nominative absolute. The second version, using the objective pronoun Him, exemplifies what is sometimes termed an accusative absolute.

Although the accusative absolute construction is eminently grammatical in classical Greek, the second version above is not really suitable for formal register in English, as your own source has noted. If it appears in a context where formal register is expected and demanded, it will strike a lot of editors and professors as semi-literate, in the same way as “between he and I” or “Me and my friends want . . .”—violating normative expectations of which pronoun case is appropriate to the positions object of preposition or subject of clause. The position of subject of absolute construction is likewise associated specifically with the subjective case, if it is to be filled by a personal pronoun in formal register.

The distinction between “nominative absolute” and “accusative absolute” in English, such as it is, completely disappears when that subject position is not occupied by any of the personal pronouns that show case (as “you” does not). Since in the video linked by OP Mr. Justice Scalia is talking about the second amendment, which as seen above contains no personal pronoun anywhere, it makes no real sense for him to characterize the absolute construction there as a specifically “accusative” one. But he ventures it only as a casual opinion. He is perhaps hoping to intimidate people with less grammatical knowledge, while being sufficiently noncommittal to stay out of trouble in case someone questions him who has more grammatical knowledge.

  • +1 Was a stimulating read. Thank you, Professor Brian.
    – user405662
    Jun 9, 2021 at 13:49

First, there is no such thing as "accusative-absolute", as a general grammatical term.
All grammatical terms are relative to individual languages. This term is relative to Greek and Latin.
But not to English -- English has no accusative case. So if what you're reading is sposta be about English grammar, you should automatically distrust it.

Second, the terms accusative, finite verb and nominative absolute.
Brian's answer deals with accusative case and absolutive constructions.
Nominative is another Latin, Greek, and German case; English nouns don't have cases.

That leaves finite verb.
Any English verb (well, almost any -- this doesn't apply to modal auxiliaries) can be used two ways:

  • as a finite verb, which means a verb in the present or past tense form (am, were, went, goes)
  • as a non-finite verb, which means a participle or infinitive form (be, going, gone)

They have very different kinds of syntax. Finite verbs can be main verbs, but non-finite verbs are always in subordinate clauses. Only finite verbs have tense, and one is required in every main clause; but you can't mark tense on non-finite verbs -- *You wanted to went yesterday is ungrammatical.

  • 5
    Despite the fact that English has no accusative case, accusative-absolute is a common, traditional term for the construction in question. I don’t see why a source using an established term, even if it originated as an extension of a term used to name a different construction in a different language, should be a reason to distrust it. The term itself may not be particularly well-chosen for the English construction, but then preposition is not very apt as a term for English prepositions, either. They’re just terms, and as long as they’re used consistently, they are at least unambiguous. Jun 21, 2014 at 15:47
  • I was not aware that I was writing about "absolutive" constructions, but if my many sins are forgiven me I'll not complain. Jun 21, 2014 at 16:15
  • 1
    @BrianDonovan: Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine praesentis, et perfecti, et verborum infinitivorum. Jun 21, 2014 at 16:31
  • "You wanted to went yesterday is ungrammatical." Yes it is. However, "You wanted to have gone by yesterday." is perfectly grammatical. You can mark tenses on non-finite verbs, but only some tenses (present perfect, future, and future perfect; not imperfect or pluperfect). Future and future perfect constructions are rather convoluted (e.g., to be about to have gone).
    – Jerry
    Jul 26, 2014 at 1:52
  • 1
    Whether the English perfect is primarily a tense or an aspect (it clearly has features of both) is a matter of opinion. E.g. in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, it's referred to as one of two past tenses, with a footnote saying that it's also often considered an aspect. That it's unwise to refer to the perfect as 'perfection' in what can be considered pedantic criticism of someone else is probably not so much a matter of opinion.
    – user86291
    Jul 26, 2014 at 15:33

Accusative case, for the most part, is a fancy way of saying objective case. So your example was:

a construction in English, especially colloquial English, consisting of a pronoun in the accusative case joined with a predicate that does not include a finite verb and otherwise identical with the nominative absolute (as him being my friend in “him being my friend, I granted his request”)

  1. Pronoun in the accusative case: him, her, it, them, me, us, you, and you.
  2. A predicate that is not a finite verb: swimming, humming, jumping, etc. Base form of verb (go, help, etc.) +ing.
  3. Nominative absolute: From this source, it states that it is:

"A nominative absolute is a noun phrase that begins or ends a sentence. The phrase has no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence. Most nominative absolutes contain a participle or participial phrase which modifies the noun or pronoun."

Examples: "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." From here


"The weather being rainy, we decided to postpone the trip." From the same source as the definition.

It is essentially what is called absolute phrase, a phrase that functions outside of the main sentence but also provides additional information.

[Him (accusative pronoun) being (nonfinite verb) my friend (object/complement of nonfinite verb)] nominative absolute, I granted his request.

The reason why it might be called an accusative-abosulte is that Him is an objective case pronoun.

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