Re: Genitive Absolutes

Randy Leedy (
Sat, 02 Nov 1996 16:29:54 -0500

Carl Conrad wrote:

>>>Which raises a question that has puzzled me many a time: WHY is it
so difficult for students to recognize genitive absolutes, when the
construction is as normal to Greek narrative expression as apple pie
to the American palate? I've found this repeatedly in both Greek
classes and Latin classes: the genitive absolute construction is not
automatically recognized. Perhaps we should issue a warning: if you
see a participle in the genitive, you should probably start looking
for a genitive subject! I haven't checked on this, but my gut sense
is that far more often than not the participle precedes the subject
when the genitive absolute appears in a narrative. I know, I know,
gut feelings are perilous--better do some research!

Two points here. Having just gotten my beta version of Gramcord
installed within the past 30 minutes, I thought I'd put it to the
test on both points. I am thrilled with the software so far, and I
found some support for my comments.

First point. I like Carl's rule about suspecting Gen. Abs. for ptcps.
in the gen., but I'd like to add a couple of qualifiers. First, the
participle must be anarthrous (obvious to all but the neophytes).
Second, the genitive subject must not stand in a genitive case
relation to the governing clause. That's the idea of the
construction's being "Absolute"; it doesn't have a case relationship
with the parent clause. The second qualifier only rarely comes into
play. Browsing through the results of my Gramcord search (which was
for a genitive participle not preceded by an agreeing article within
3 words, and followed within 6 words by an agreeing noun--a bit
restrictive, and I'm sure it missed some valid examples), I didn't
find anything except genitive absolutes until I got to Acts 2:2: HCOS
hWSPER FEROMENHS PNOHS ("a sound as of a rushing wind"). This
construction isn't a genitive absolute, because the subject, "wind,"
is in a genitive case relationship to HCOS. Anarthrous participles
modifying genitive substantives are not going to be all that
uncommon, I don't think, so the qualifier that the subject of the
participle can't be a member of the governing clause seems to me
worth pointing out.

It's also possible for an anarthrous participle in an oblique case to
be circumstantial, when its subject is something other than the
subject of the governing clause. I haven't looked hard for such a
construction in the genitive, but Matthew 21:23 has one in the
dative, as does Rom 4:10. The Matthew passage is especially
interesting in that it contains a genitive absolute as well. So
here's another kind of construction (albeit rather rare) in which the
second qualifier is an important factor.

Second point. In scanning through the output of my Gramcord search, I
did stumble upon a number of genitive absolutes in which the subject
precedes the participle. I didn't make any effort to count, and my
search was designed to find participle-first constructions. So it
appears Carl's gut sense, while I suspect it is valid, probably needs
at least to omit the word "far."

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC