A scientist, he always thinks about what is best for the people.

Is this "a scientist" part a nominative absolute phrase? It seems like nominative absolute phrase has to have a verb or adjective after the noun like this:

The dragon slain, the knight could rest.

It is what makes me confused. I don't think the scientist sentence uses nominative absolute phrase since it only has a noun to describe "he". There is nothing more than a noun. So is it a nominative absolute phrase or not? If not, what's the name of that usage?

  • According to the Wikipedia article (which I believe you quote from, and so ought to mention) 'A scientist,' is a shorter form of 'As he is a scientist,' and the necessary 'he' counts against this being a true nominative absolute. I'd still call it one; I'd reckon that some authority deems it sensible to broaden the definition to include such cases as they are basically so similar. EnglishPlus gives 'The weather being rainy, we decided to postpone the trip.' which doesn't pass Wikipedia's test. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 22:55
  • What do you mean by "the necessary 'he' counts against this being a true nominative absolute"? Do you mean that if I include "he" in the phrase, it will not be a nominative absolute phrase but something else?
    – sooeithdk
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 22:57
  • 'As the dragon was slain, ...' Adding just a subordinator and a form of be converts the nominative absolute phrase into a subordinate clause, which satisfies the requirement in the Wikipedia article. But 'Since he is a scientist, ...' requires the additional pronoun to recover the subordinate clause. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 23:05
  • Hmm.... I can see the problem...
    – sooeithdk
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 23:07
  • Does the same go with the sentences with adjectives? For example: Desperate to get to the car, he ran without an umbrella over his head.
    – sooeithdk
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 23:11

2 Answers 2


This article from 'The Garden of Phrases at Grammar.ccc.com gives a good overview:


Usually (but not always, as we shall see), an absolute phrase (also called a nominative absolute) is a group of words consisting of a noun or pronoun and a participle as well as any related modifiers. Absolute phrases do not directly connect to or modify any specific word in the rest of the sentence; instead, they modify the entire sentence, adding information. They are always treated as parenthetical elements and are set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma or a pair of commas (sometimes by a dash or pair of dashes). Notice that absolute phrases contain a subject (which is often modified by a participle), but not a true finite verb.

  • Their reputation as winners secured by victory, the New York Liberty charged into the semifinals.

  • The season nearly finished, Rebecca Lobo and Sophie Witherspoon emerged as true leaders.

  • The two superstars signed autographs into the night, their faces beaming happily.

When the participle of an absolute phrase is a form of to be, such as being or having been, the participle is often left out but understood.

  • The season [being] over, they were mobbed by fans in Times Square.

  • [Having been] Stars all their adult lives, they seemed used to the attention.

  • [[Being] A scientist, he always thinks about what is best for the people.]

  • The dragon [having been] slain, the knight could rest.

Another kind of absolute phrase is found after a modified noun; it adds a focusing detail or point of focus to the idea of the main clause. This kind of absolute phrase can take the form of a prepositional phrase, an adjective phrase, or a noun phrase.

  • The old firefighter stood over the smoking ruins, his senses alert to any sign of another flare-up.

  • His subordinates, their faces sweat-streaked and smudged with ash, leaned heavily against the firetruck.

  • They knew all too well how all their hard work could be undone – in an instant.

It is not unusual for the information supplied in the absolute phrase to be the most important element in the sentence. In fact, in descriptive prose, the telling details will often be wrapped into a sentence in the form of an absolute phrase:

  • Coach Nykesha strolled onto the court, her arms akimbo and a large silver whistle clenched between her teeth.

  • The new recruits stood in one corner of the gym, their uniforms stiff and ill fitting, their faces betraying their anxiety.

A noun phrase can also exist as an absolute phrase:

  • Your best friends, where are they now, when you need them?

  • And then there was my best friend Sally – the dear girl – who has certainly fallen on hard times.

I think it's best to disambiguate 'nominative absolute' and 'absolute construction' (I'd see the latter term as a hypernym). Constructions with free-standing adjectives/adjectivals:

  • Desperate to get to the car, he ran without an umbrella over his head.

  • Exhausted, he gave up after 20 miles.

are certainly recognised as 'absolute constructions' by many authorities.

  • Wow...this answers my question perfectly!!! Thank you so much.
    – sooeithdk
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 23:30
  • Very informative indeed!
    – user405662
    Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 17:38

A scientist,

Gives information to the subject "he"

So I think it's not an absolute phrase but an appositive phrase since it does not add information to the entire sentence.

  • Don't you think "scientist" could explain the reason why "he always thinks about what is best for the people"? Can you explain in more details why you think it is an appositive phrase with a few more examples?
    – user140086
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 15:21

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