But it is just two lovers, holding hands and in a hurry to reach their car, their locked hands a starfish leaping through the dark.

A sentence by John Updike.

I've never seen a lot of sentences like this pattern. It (the bold part) looks like a phrase, a free modifier.

When I try to split the Phrase there I got two noun phrases- their locked hands and a starfish.

I think I can just write - Their locked hands a starfish

Their locked hands leaping through the dark is the common syntax of the phrase (often named absolute phrase) I've encountered in books.

How is it possible to construct a phrase with a noun equating to another in the same structure?

Can I just write My hands a starfish?

But it is just two lovers, walking towards their car, their hands a starfish, their black car a nimbus at night.

Why don't I see a lot of such sentences in literature?

What such a construction is called? 🤔

Finally.. Is there any special equation to make such absolute or embed constructions?

(I'm not a native English Speaker)

1 Answer 1


The believe the structure you bolded contains what is known as an appositive. An appositive is essentially a noun phrase that modifies another consecutive noun phrase. In your case, "a starfish leaping through the dark" is the appositive while "their locked hands" is the noun being modified.

The entire bolded structure is a phrase as it contains no main verb, and so "My hands a starfish" would not be considered a complete sentence.

  • But it's a phrase itself. Appositive is not described in this way.
    – New Moon
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 17:39
  • 2
    An appositive is a noun phrase that is after a noun phrase, and refers to the same thing as the noun phrase it's after. The two together function as a single noun phrase; e.g, My daughter the doctor is coming for dinner tonight. Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 18:47
  • 1
    Usually, you might see the appositive go before the noun it is modifying, or after the noun it is modifying and a comma. This example where the appositive goes after the noun without a comma is thus not specifically addressed in the source I linked above, which may explain the confusion. Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 18:48

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