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I need to know the grammar and syntactical explanation of a phrase in the following sentence:

The protest was reportedly linked to members of the group objecting to the replacement of the group leader.

Is this phrase "members of the group objecting to the replacement of the group leader" an absolute phrase? If so, can absolute phrases act as the objects (noun clauses) of verbs?

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  • English Grammar states "Absolute phrases are always set off from the rest of the sentence by commas." The sentence could be "The protest was reportedly linked to members of the group [who were] objecting to the replacement of the group leader." Jun 18, 2023 at 20:32
  • Thanks for you reply. "who were objecting ..." is a participle phrase that adds descriptive information about a noun that is "the group". But what did the noun "the group" do to be correlated with the protest?
    – WASAP
    Jun 18, 2023 at 21:56
  • Here the second part of the sentence, "that members of the group objected to the replacement of the group leader" is acting as a noun phrase, which is clearer to me as the reader.
    – WASAP
    Jun 18, 2023 at 22:04
  • The cited text is nothing to do with absolute phrases (that might be something like The members of the group being unhappy, they decided to go on strike). But syntax of the text is ambiguous - the indirect object could be either members of the group (who were objecting...) OR the object could be the fact that those members were objecting... Jun 19, 2023 at 0:41
  • @TinfoilHat I agree that it's not an absolute construction, but I would call it a gerund-participial clause modifying "group", thus avoiding the dodgy term 'reduced relative clause'. The finite clause equivalent is "members of the group who objected ..." (not "members of the group who were objecting ...").
    – BillJ
    Jun 19, 2023 at 6:47

1 Answer 1

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The protest was reportedly linked to members of the group objecting to the replacement of the group leader.

This can be reduced to "It was linked to them", in which "to them" is a prepositional phrase and the complement.

(And thus to members of the group objecting to the replacement of the group leader is a prepositional phrase and the complement.)

to -> preposition

members of the group objecting to the replacement of the group leader -> noun phrase.

In contrast, absolute phrases are of the style

The old man walked alone, his hands clasped before him.

The old man, his hands clasped before him, walked alone.

His hands clasped before him, the old man walked alone.

The main clause is "the old man walked alone" and it is modified by the absolute phrase "his hands clasped before him."

The absolute phrase can be expanded to

The old man walked alone with his hands his hands that were clasped before him.

The absolute phrase is thus performing the function of a free modifier.

Edit to clarify the use of "modify/modifier"

English Grammar 101[Absolute Phrase] Definition:

An absolute phrase (nominative absolute) is generally made up of a noun or pronoun with a participial phrase. It modifies the whole sentence, not a single noun, which makes it different from a participial phrase.

Absolute phrases:

Its branches covered in icicles, the tall oak stood in our yard.

The tall oak, its branches covered in icicles, stood in our yard.

The tall oak stood in our yard, its branches covered in icicles

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  • Absolute clauses are not modifiers. How can they be? They are supplements, loosely attached expressions set off by intonation and punctuation presenting non-integrated content.
    – BillJ
    Jun 19, 2023 at 6:33
  • @BillJ I think this is simply semantics. The absolute phrase cannot stand on its own and adds to the information about the main clause. If it adds to the information, does it not modify it?
    – Greybeard
    Jun 19, 2023 at 9:35
  • Not in the sense 'modify' is used by grammarians. And any other sense should either be avoided or flagged on ELU. Jun 19, 2023 at 10:37
  • @Greybeard No, it doesn't. The important point about supplements is that they are not part of the main clause, not modifiers. Internet websites like the one you cite are hardly scholarly resources. People will believe any rubbish! This may help: link
    – BillJ
    Jun 19, 2023 at 11:50

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