Re: Nominative absolutes

Carl W. Conrad (
Tue, 17 Dec 1996 14:46:35 -0600

At 1:56 PM -0600 12/17/96, A K M Adam wrote:
>No, let's *do* talk about nominative absolutes. A colleague called me two
>years ago to inquire about
>what he thought might be a nominative absolute in Ecclesiastes (I don't
>recall the chapter &
>verse--I'll get back with specifics). When he asked, I indicated
>skepticism but (as a good Middle
>Greek <g>) I looked in all my reference books and found very little
>helpful discussion.
> Smyth doesn't mention the category, though there is an allusion to
>the nominativus pendens,
>which I take to be distinct from a true (hypothetical) nominative
>absolute; BDF simply discusses
>instances of syntactically awkward nominatives (the index sends an
>inquirer straight to
>"anacoluthon"); Robertson/Davis have a section on the nominative absolute,
>but it's another
>grab-bag. Zerwick spends a lot of time on the nominativus pendens--little
>or none on absolutes.
> Now Daniel Wallace has a thorough treatment of nominatives (TO
>KAINOTATOS). He will admit as
>nominative absolutes only the uses of the nom for titles, addresses, and
>salutations; what I was
>looking for (way back when and now) was more like the usage Wallace
>characterizes as "Nominative
>in proverbial expressions," citing as examples 2 Pt 2:22 (KUWN EPISTREPSAS
>SOPHOUS EN THi PANOURGIAi AUTWN) and referring to the seminal discussion
>of our own Carlton
>So, Carl, why don't you want to talk about it? What's the rationale (MEN)
>for abjuring nominative
>absolutes, or (DE) distinguishing the title/address/salute usage as a true
>nom absolute from the
>proverbial usage, which is for some reason less a nom absolute? Or is it
>just a beehive that you
>were wishing no one would poke? (If so, sorry; I just want to learn more.)

A fair question, and one that sent me back to look at what Wallace calls a
"Nominative Absolute." You have rightly characterized and described him as
using the term only for titles, addresses, and salutations. I will not
dispute that the nominative is used that way--as a sort of subject without
a predicate, although I'm inclined personally to think that there's an
implicit predicate even there, and that it's "This is ..." or "Here is ..."

What I object to about this term "nominative absolute" is that it can only
muddy the waters for those who think of an "absolute" construction in terms
of a subject-predicate phrase in the genitive in Greek or in the accusative
in Greek (in the case of impersonal verbs) or ablative in Latin, the phrase
functioning as a sort of adverbial clause setting the circumstances for the
main predicate of the sentence. What makes it worse is that we refer to a
clause in English that functions exactly like that, (e.g., "Other things
being equal, I'd rather not do this any more.") as a "nominative absolute,"
and with good reason, because it IS parallel to these Latin and Greek
"absolute" constructions. But to use the term "absolute" for titles,
addresses, and salutations on grounds that these are grammatically
unattached to a real sentence, is, it seems to me, to lump apples and
potatoes together into a fruit-basket. So what I'm objecting to is the
application of a term with a misleading name to a usage that is unrelated
to other usages that already have a name of that sort.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR