I'm looking for examples / explanation of absolute phrases with adverbs instead of participles.

What about the following:

  • She walked into the room, gracefully.

Is the adverb, gracefully, an absolute phrase

An absolute phrase is a modifier (quite often a participle), or a modifier and a few other words, that attaches to a sentence or a noun, with no conjunction.

Obviously you would normally want to say

  • She walked gracefully into the room

But I wondered if shifting the adverb like that made it absolute.

I am especially interested in whether any authority on grammar would claim it is an absolute phrase.

  • 1
    No, "gracefully" is not an absolute here, but an adverb in modifier function. An 'absolute' is not a phrase but a non-finite clause that contains a subject, which is syntactically independent of the main clause, hence its name. As a supplement, it isn't a modifier -- it doesn't become part of the VP constituent, but sits apart, separated in writing, usually by punctuation such as commas or dashes. A decent example is "[Her voice trembling with fear], she screamed out for help", where "her voice" is subject and "trembling with fear" is a non-finite VP.
    – BillJ
    Jul 2, 2018 at 6:47
  • 1
    The most useful meaning of 'phrase' is any word, or series of words, that conceptually fill a role (i.e., any grouping that you give a name to). Thus 'she' is a [subject] noun phrase, 'gracefully' is an adverbial phrase, etc.
    – AmI
    Jul 2, 2018 at 20:51

2 Answers 2


Here are some examples:

  • We fell asleep happy for once, our bellies full and our beds warm.
  • The newlyweds checked into the motel, unaware they'd never check out.

  • Jack and John strip off their shirts and run towards the lake, the happiest they'll ever be.

  • Aware that time was about up, I made a wild guess and hoped I was right.

  • Dressed to the nines, she walked gracefully into the room.

  • Her hat in hand, she walked gracefully into the room.

  • She walked gracefully into the room, neck-deep in grief but head held high.

Your example isn't an absolute phrase for a couple of reasons. The first is that a phrase, by definition, contains more than one word. "Gracefully" is only one word. The second is that an absolute phrase modifies the entire sentence, not just one word in the sentence. Since you say that "She gracefully walked into the room" is the sentence and don't mention that you're changing the meaning of the sentence but are merely moving "gracefully" to the end, it's clear that "gracefully" is only modifying "walked" because that's all it modifies in "She gracefully walked into the room." It is not modifying the entire sentence but still just the verb, appearing after the indirect object instead of before the verb being the only difference.

Per @Edwin Ashworth's request for source information:

"An absolute phrase is a group of words that modifies an independent clause as a whole." (https://www.thoughtco.com/absolute-phrase-grammar-1689049 )

"An absolute phrase is a grammatically independent group of words that serves to modify or add information to an entire sentence." (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Absolute-Phrases.htm )

Absolute Phrases - Definition: a group of words consisting of a noun or pronoun and a participle, that is attached to a sentence without a conjunction in order to modify it (https://prezi.com/fd85xqfskwaw/absolute-phrase/ )

  • Hello, Billy. Not a bad answer, but you need to support it with corroborating references. Are you aware that some grammars allow single-word phrases? Jul 2, 2018 at 1:25
  • I would've thought the commonly known definition of "phrase" should've sufficed, but per your request, I've provided three references (see above). Know there are no "single-word phrases." The term that is inclusive of one-word examples is "absolute construction" (collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/absolute ). Since "phrase" in any and every dictionary expressly means more than one word, the term "absolute phrase" is an absolute construction containing multiple words. The asker specifically asked about "absolute phrases," and "gracefully" isn't a phrase.
    – Billy
    Jul 2, 2018 at 2:39
  • From another Nordquist ThoughtCo reference: << A phrase is only potentially complex. In other words, the term is also used to refer to 'one-word phrases,' i.e. non-prototypical phrases that consist of a head only. Thus the sentence 'Jill smokes' is a combination of a noun phrase and a verb phrase." (Renaat Declerck, Susan Reed, and Bert Cappelle, The Grammar of the English Tense System: A Comprehensive Analysis. Mouton de Gruyter, 2006) >> Jul 2, 2018 at 9:46
  • ... On a site aimed at more advanced studies of the language, great care has to be taken when using the metalanguage. Even 'word' and 'sentence' are not uniquely defined. Indeed, the apparent source of OP's example contains ' Finally, please notice that the primary components of most (but not all) of these absolute phrases are a NOUN + a MODIFIER, although it is possible to use only a modifier' (bolding mine). And note that BillJ (doubtless following CGEL) rejects the term 'absolute phrase' completely. Jul 2, 2018 at 9:56
  • I don't see how one can consider it scholarly practice to cherry-pick a statement from one article given by Nordquist and reject another. I'm claiming that there is a lack of consensus on the definition of 'phrase'. Wikipedia has ' In linguistic ... Jul 2, 2018 at 23:20

An adverb or adverb phrase, though it may modify an entire clause just as an absolute phrase does, fails to fulfill a basic criterion for that construction: it is grammatically impossible for an adverb phrase to have a subject.

The analogous construction, however, is the sentence adverb, a disjunct which takes the reader outside the argument of the sentence and expresses a resultant attitude or opinion. As the name implies, a sentence adverb does not attach grammatically to a verb, but, as an absolute phrase, to an entire clause.

Sentence adverbs, of course, need not be phrases, but for the sake of illustration, here are a few examples:

Unfortunately for researchers, people under the age of 65 have no identifiers other than their Social Security numbers and have no population-wide insurance system that could (like Medicare) be used to track medical events over time. — Tools For Evaluating Health Technologies, 2004.

A common construction in which an adverb phrase modifies a sentence or clause is adverb + enough:

Ironically enough, British victory in the Seven Years' War set the stage for the revolt, for it freed the colonists from the need for British protection against a French threat on their frontiers and gave free play to the forces working for separation. — Robert W. Coakley, Stetson Conn, The War of the American Revolution, 2002, 24.

What is a Society? Curiously enough, it is not easy to find social scientists who seem to know – and are ready to explain – what a "society” is. — Claus Offe, “Is there, or can there be, a ‘European Society’?” in: Ines Katenhusen, Wolfram Lamping, eds., Demokratien in Europa, 2013.

The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was small and very crammed. The largest room in the whole house was the bathroom, surprisingly enough. — Meagan M. Donohue, Sincarian, 2009, 139.

Since gracefully describes the manner in which an action is performed rather than express an authorial comment, it is difficult to imagine its use as a sentence adverb even in the same construction:

Nandini had made up her mind to go with them, had even changed into outdoor clothes, but she had backed out, gracefully enough, without rancour. — Ambika Sirkar, No Crystal Stair, 2011, 56.

Despite the parentheses and the adverb + enough phrase, gracefully enough still expresses the manner in which Nandini backed out, i.e., it still modifies the verb, not the clause, as, say, surprisingly enough, which would be a comment on her behavior and personality, not how she backed out of a planned engagement.

  • 1
    There are broader definitions of 'absolute phrase'. {Grammar.ccc.com}, for instance, includes 'They knew all too well how all their hard work could be undone – in an instant.' But this has been covered here before. Jul 2, 2018 at 10:08
  • @EdwinAshworth: I have one word for that: rubbish. Is rubbish an absolute? Or does it stand in apposition to word?
    – KarlG
    Jul 2, 2018 at 12:46
  • That's obviously an appositive. Jul 2, 2018 at 13:33
  • @EdwinAshworth hi, i can't find meta.english does it still exist. i just wanted to ask (there?) how it is that relative authorities seem able to disagree about basic grammar. definitions, at least. i think the site could be vastly improved, i.e. be more user friendly, if that was more obvious to those with a casual interest in grammar... and what
    – user99677
    Jul 2, 2018 at 14:05
  • quite anarchic really, as ironic as that may be
    – user99677
    Jul 2, 2018 at 14:15

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