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Zooming in for Close-ups with Absolute Phrases. Katie Mason ENED 4414 Sept. 3, 2009. What’s an Absolute Phrase?. Not so fast, grammarians! First we’re going to look at some absolute phrases in action. Then we’re going to try to define them based on our observations.

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Zooming in for close ups with absolute phrases

Zooming in for Close-ups with Absolute Phrases

Katie Mason

ENED 4414

Sept. 3, 2009

What s an absolute phrase
What’s an Absolute Phrase?

  • Not so fast, grammarians!

  • First we’re going to look at some absolute phrases in action.

  • Then we’re going to try to define them based on our observations.

  • Finally, we’ll try them out in our own writing.

  • Ready? Here we GO!

Absolute phrases in deathwatch
Absolute Phrases in Deathwatch

  • Remember what’s been happening in our reading of Deathwatch? In case you’ve missed out or forgotten, here’s the lowdown …

  • Deathwatch summary

  • As you read the following examples, notice the absolute phrases in bold. What effect do they have on the mood and images you feel and see?

Absolute phrases in deathwatch1
Absolute Phrases in Deathwatch

It would be so easy for Madec to kill him, Ben thought.

If Madec noticed his tracks in the path, or if the sand where he was buried was disturbed enough to attract his attention or if he just happened to see the two little tubes sticking up out of the sand, it would be a simple thing for him to walk over to Ben’s grave, stand on top of it and put his finger on the end of the tube. With the weight of Madec added to the weight of the sand on top of him, his arms pinned at his sides, he would be helpless and, in two or three minutes, he would be dead. (142)

Absolute phrases in deathwatch2
Absolute Phrases in Deathwatch

And then [Ben] felt a movement, the sand around his body seeming to compress slightly (143).

The big .358 Winchester was on the ground below Madec, standing propped against the wall. The underside of the gun was toward Ben, the metal of the trigger guard black against the polished, light-tan wood of the stock (146).

Absolute phrases in deathwatch3
Absolute Phrases in Deathwatch

Going back to the rear so he could crouch there, the barrel of the gun out along the can rack, Ben got down into position, slowly pushed the gun out, and took a preliminary look through the scope.

The four-power glass brought the trigger guard [of Madec’s gun, as Madec scales the cliff face] leaping toward him.

Fish in a barrel, he thought. He reached automatically for the knob of the bolt to check that a cartridge was chambered.

There was no knob …

There was no bolt.

Ben looked down where it should have been and could see the top cartridge in the clip, the brass case shiny and new, the brass-jacketed bullet a duller color.

Without the bolt the gun and cartridges were useless. A metal tube, little containers of gun powder, a magnifying glass. (147)

Absolute phrases in deathwatch4
Absolute Phrases in Deathwatch

Could he run fast enough to get the gun before Madec could come down off the cliff face?

No. A loop of rope around one of the tent pegs reached all the way to the ground. Madec could come down that rope in a matter of seconds and be standing there, gun in hand, as Ben came panting up. (147)

Let s zooooom in some more
Let’s zooooom in some more!

  • We’ll read the passage on the handout together.

  • Then you’ll spend a few moments responding to the prompts.

  • Please do not turn your sheet over until we’ve completed this part of the activity.


Copeland, Thomas A. “Absolute Phrases.” Youngstown State University. 1 Sept. 2009 http://cc.ysu.edu/~tacopela/Writing/Absolutes1.htm.

“The Garden of Phrases.” The Guide to Grammar and Writing. Capital Community College. 1 Sept. 2009. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/phrases.htm

Noden, Harry R. Image Grammar: Using Grammatical Structures to Teach Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999

White, Robb. Deathwatch. New York: Bantam Doubleday, 1972.