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I came across this sentence but can't understand the grammatical structure.

Despite there being a blizzard in the area, business remained open as usual.

In the phrase "Despite there being a blizzard," I can tell "there being" is an absolute phrase. Then why "despite" is used? Can an absolute phrase function as a noun phrase? Or is "there being" not an absolute phrase but a gerund? But if it is a gerund, that doesn't make sense in terms of grammatical structure.

Why and how "despite" can be used with an absolute phrase?

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  • 1
    Despite is a preposition. The phrase "there being a blizzard" is a gerund as the object of despite.
    – William
    Mar 19, 2017 at 16:18
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    Consider the finite clause "There is a blizzard". "There being a blizzard" is just the gerund form with the same grammatical structure.
    – William
    Mar 19, 2017 at 16:28
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    “Despite” is a preposition with the absolute clause “there being a blizzard in the area” as its complement. “Despite there being a blizzard in the area” is an adjunct of concession.
    – BillJ
    Mar 19, 2017 at 16:50
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    Yes, certainly the prepositional complement is an absolute clause rather than a participle clause. Mar 19, 2017 at 16:53
  • 1
    @BillJ If "there being" is left out, then the sentence will be as follows: Despite a blizzard, business remained open as usual. I think this sentence is grammatically right, since "Despite a blizzard" is a prepositional phrase here. Isn't it?
    – Mayjio
    Mar 20, 2017 at 0:40

2 Answers 2

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Participle phrases seek to modify something in the main sentence. But there are situations the main sentence doesn't contain elements to modify. Here in lies the need for an absolute phrase. As the name suggests, it is self contained. An Absolute phrase or nominative absolute cantains a moun or pronoun/a participle/related modifier. It may even take a 'dummy it' or 'introductory there'. It is by nature parenthetical, set off from the rest of the sentence by comma(s) providing additional information or modifying​ the sentence as a whole. Almost a clause, an absolute phrase may contain any sentence element except a finite verb.

Let us analyze our example with and without the preposition "despite" meaning ' in spite of' or 'not withstanding'

  • Despite there being a blizzard in the area, business remained open as usual.

If we do away with "despite" the absolute phrase gives a different meaning to what is intended. Please note that absolute phrases can take the form of a noun phrase, an adjective phrase or prepositional phrase, And the prepositioal phrase is called from the standard of construction, not from functionality. It can be anything,here an adverb modifying the whole sentence that follows.

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  • I could see how one could technically see it as a prepositional phrase containing an absolute phrase. But I wouldn't call the whole thing that. As we know, pronoun case is nominative in absolute phrases by default. People tend to use the accusative/objective, but that is informal. However, with one of these phrases being headed by a preposition, you cannot use the nominative case.
    – AJK432
    Apr 30, 2019 at 12:55
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    '... an absolute phrase can take the form of a noun phrase, an adjective phrase or a prepositional phrase'. I agree, but please add a linked and attributed reference endorsing this claim. Dec 1, 2019 at 17:35
  • This can be an absolute construction without the word 'despite'. "There being a blizzard in the area, the business remained open as usual" It is similar to any other example like, "The people having left the place, anti-socials began to rule."
    – Ram Pillai
    Dec 4, 2019 at 2:54
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Let me provide an alternative answer that accords with the treatment in CGEL.

In the sentence,

[1] Despite there being a blizzard in the area, business remained open as usual.

the part

[2] despite there being a blizzard in the area

is called an adjunct of concession (CGEL, pp. 734–736).

Concessive adjuncts have the form of PPs, mainly headed by the items in [6i], or adverbs, as in [6ii]:

[6]   i  although       though         despite   in spite   notwithstanding   albeit
       ii  nevertheless  nonetheless  still           yet

In particular, we have the following:

Despite, in spite, notwithstanding, for, albeit

[9]   i  [In spite of/Despite the recession,] travel agents seem to be doing well.
       ii  [In spite of/Despite having grown up in Paris,] Sonia doesn't speak French.
      iii  [Notwithstanding Ed's reservations,] the agreement is the best I could hope for.
      iv  [For all our good intentions,] the meeting soon broke up in acrimony.
       v  The book covers the whole field, [albeit somewhat superficially].

Despite takes an NP complement, in spite a PP with of + NP, and in either case a gerund-participial can replace the NP. Notwithstanding usually takes an NP complement (which can precede the head: see Ch. 7, §4.2). In its concessive use, for takes an NP complement beginning with all. Albeit is restricted to formal style, and takes only a verbless clause as complement.

The relevant example is [9] ii. It is almost exactly like [1] in that the complement of despite is a gerund-participial clause. One slight difference is that the gerund-participial clause

[10] there being a blizzard in the area

is also an existential clause (CGEL, pp. 1390–1392). Therefore, in [10], there is the subject, and the NP a blizzard in the area is a displaced subject.

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