Revised 1/7/05
KISS Grammar Workbooks
Level Five Instructional Material (Overview)
Noun Absolutes

      A noun absolute is 
a noun plus gerundive construction
that functions as an adverb or as a noun.

Noun Absolutes That Function as Adverbs

     When you have identified the function of almost all the words in a sentence, sometimes you will find a gerundive that modifies a noun and the noun will not function as a subject, direct object, etc. This is a construction known as a noun absolute, and they often function as adverbs:

Supper having been finished, the family went to the ball game. 

Note that the noun absolute is a reduction of a subordinate clause -- "When supper was finished,  ... " or "When they had finished supper, ...." And it functions just as the subordinate clause would -- in this case, it modifies "went." 
     Sometimes, the gerundive ellipsed: 

Hands *being* behind his back, dad watched 
as Fred rode his bike down the street.

     Interestingly, punctuation can make the difference between a compound sentence and a noun absolute: 

a.) The plane stood upright; its tail pointed back at the sky.
b.) The plane stood upright, its tail pointed back at the sky.
The semicolon, a signal of a dump to long-term memory, makes "pointed" in (a) an active, finite verb. But the comma in (b) allows us to read "pointed" as a passive participle ("*having been* pointed"), thereby changing the construction into a noun absolute. 

      As a general rule, the noun in a noun absolute comes first, but in some cases, especially with clauses, the gerundive does: 

Given [that hes willing to play,] will the referees let him?

Noun Absolutes That Function as Nouns

     For stylistic reasons, you may also want to explain some noun plus gerundive constructions as being noun absolutes. In essence, they can function in any way that a noun can.

As Subjects:

     In the sentence

The party having been a success pleased Sam.
you could explain "party" as the subject and "having been a success" as a gerundive phrase that modifies it. This explanation, however, puts the rhetorical focus on "party." Compare it to
The party's having been a success pleased Sam.
As a possessive, "party's" is reduced to an adjective that modifies the gerund phrase "having been a success," thereby putting more focus on the "success." Similarly, compare it to
The party, having been a success, pleased Sam.
The comma cuts the nexal connection between "party" and "having been a success," thereby clearly making "having been a success" a gerundive phrase that modifies "party." This clearly puts the focus on "party."
     The three versions are, of course, close in meaning, but the absolute explanation suggests an equal level of importance in the noun and in the gerundive; the possessive plus gerund puts more emphasis on the gerund; and the noun plus gerundive explanation suggests that the noun itself it more meaningful. 

As Direct Objects:

Noun Absolute:
     They watched the windmill turning in the wind.
Possessive plus Gerund: 
     They watched the windmill's turning in the wind.
Noun plus Gerundive:
     They watched the windmill, turning in the wind.
The noun absolute explanation here suggests that both the windmill and its turning are equally important to the visual image. The possessive plus gerund suggests that the primary focus is the mill's vanes turning in the wind, whereas the comma splits the connection and makes the windmill itself the primary focus.

As Predicate Nouns:

Noun Absolute:
     The decisive factor was Sue kicking the fieldgoal.
Possessive plus Gerund: 
     The decisive factor was Sue's kicking the fieldgoal.
Noun plus Gerundive:
     The decisive factor was Sue, kicking the fieldgoal.
As Objects of Prepositions:
Noun Absolute:
      With the boats steaming out of the harbor, the scene was beautiful.
Possessive plus Gerund: 
     With the boats' steaming out of the harbor, the scene was beautiful.
Noun plus Gerundive:
     With the boats, steaming out of the harbor, the scene was beautiful.
As Appositives:
Noun Absolute:
      The scene -- people crying and screaming -- was heartbreaking.
Possessive plus Gerund: 
      The scene -- people's crying and screaming -- was heartbreaking.
Noun plus Gerundive:
      The scene -- people, crying and screaming -- was heartbreaking.
Note again that any noun absolute that functions as a noun can also be explained as a noun modified by a gerundive. When you consider it as a noun absolute, you are specifically suggesting that the noun and the gerundive are equally important to the meaning of the sentence.