Re: Genitive Absolutes

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sat Nov 02 1996 - 18:59:17 EST

At 04:29 PM 11/2/96 -0500, Randy Leedy wrote:
>Carl Conrad wrote:
>>>>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.

I wasn't sure if we should discuss this here, but I am also a beta tester for
Gramcord, and I am also thrilled with the software. I appreciated your message
because it included an example of a nice, sophisticated search which I can now
do myself (look, Ma, I'm searching for genitive absolutes!). This is really
cool for people like me who need to wade through lots of examples to persuade
myself that Carl is, as usual, right once again.

>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.

I did a similar search, but less restrictive, and I compared those where the
substantive was first to those where it was second. My searches were:

1. genitive particible followed by a genitive pronoun or noun agreeing in
   number, case, and gender within the same clause and within 5 words

This returned 335 verses. The vast majority of these seem like reasonable
candidates for genitive absolute to me. Those that aren't had (you guessed it!)
articles before the participle, but there weren't that many of them.

2. the same, with the pronoun or noun first

This returned 300 verses, but most of it was chaff. Looking at the first
in Matthew, I'd say that at least 2/3 are not genitive absolutes. However, this
is not evently distributed -- of the first 7 hits, only the first one is.
But there
are also quite a few real genitive absolutes with the substantive first,
this really
isn't rare. In most cases, there was some other reason for the substantive to be
genitive, such as a genitive preposition.

So I tried again, specifying that there be no genitive preposition
immediately before
the substantive. Now there are 122 verses. In *many* of the examples in
Matthew, OPSIAS was the substantive, and these were spurious. I haven't a
good feel for how many of the entire set are spurious (it takes me a while
to sort them out!).

I'm still trying to formulate a fairly precise search that will find only
the valid
examples of genitive absolutes where the participle comes after the noun or
Can anybody help here?


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
email:, <--- shockwave enabled!

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