Ablative absolute

In Latin grammar, the ablative absolute is a noun phrase cast in the ablative case. It indicates the time, condition, or attending circumstances of an action being described in the main sentence.

It takes the place of, and translates, many phrases that would require a subordinate clause in English. The unfamiliarity of this construction makes it sometimes difficult for Latin students to grasp; however, mastery of this construction is needed to write Latin well, and its availability makes Latin prose concise and economical.

The ablative absolute is grammatically independent of the rest of the sentence. It typically combines a noun or pronoun with an adjective, which is often a participle:

Urbe capta, Aeneas fugit
"When the city was captured, Aeneas fled."

Nouns, also, are often found in the ablative absolute construction:

Cn. Pompeio M. Crasso consulibus. . .
"When Gnaeus Pompey and Marcus Crassus were consuls. . ."

Ovidio exule Musae planguntur.
"The Muses wept because Ovid was an exile."

as are adjectives:

vivo Caesare. . .
"when Caesar was alive. . ."

The ablative absolute, as shown above, indicates the time when things happened, or the circumstances when they occurred. It also indicates the causes of things, as in:

Ira calefacta, sapientia dormit.
"Wisdom sleeps because anger is kindled."

Domino absente, fenestram penetravit.
"Since the homeowner was away, he came in through the window."

It can be used to add descriptions:

Passis palmis pacem petiverunt.
"They sued for peace with hands outstretched."

Sometimes an infinitive or clause occurs in the ablative absolute construction, especially in Livy and later authors:

audito eum fugisse. . .
"when they heard he had fled. . ."

The ablative absolute construction is sometimes imitated in English: "The Americans, their independence secured, formed a government." But the construction is much less at home in English than it is in Latin.

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