This particular use of the Participle in Latin deserves a page all to itself! Here is all you'll ever need to know about the wonderful ABLATIVE ABSOLUTE construction....not to mention a few things you'd rather not have known...
Find links to the various sections of this page in the box below.
An ABLATIVE ABSOLUTE generally consists of a NOUN and a PARTICIPLE agreeing together in the Ablative case. The noun may also have an ADJECTIVE agreeing with it.
The Participle is most frequently Past, but Present and Future are also possible.
HOW TO SPOT AN ABLATIVE ABSOLUTE
1. Notice a participle
2. See an Ablative case ending: --O, --A, --IS (past or future)
--E, --IBUS (present)
3. Find a noun with an equivalent Ablative ending of its own declension (almost always somewhere earlier in the sentence)
Unless there is another obvious reason for these words to be ABL (e.g. there is a preposition in front of the noun), you will almost certainly have an ABLATIVE ABSOLUTE.
TRANSLATING ABLATIVE ABSOLUTES
1. PAST PARTICIPLES
Step 1: Turn the words into the following literal 'formula':
"With the NOUN having-been-VERBed, …"
Step 2: Check that the rest of the sentence makes sense ON ITS OWN:
"With the noun h-b-verbed, SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED."
Step 3: Improve the English, using the various ways already familiar from other Participle uses.
e.g. URBE CAPTA, HOSTES TEMPLA DELEVERUNT
"With the city h-b-captured, the enemy destroyed the temples."
"Having captured the city, the enemy…….."
"When/Since they had captured the city, the enemy….."
"After capturing the city, ……"
"The enemy captured the city AND destroyed the temples".
Not every one of these versions will necessarily work every time; consider these examples:
e.g. URBE CAPTA, HOSTES CIVES OCCIDERUNT
O.K. to say: "Having captured the city, the enemy killed the citizens"
Or: When they had captured the city, ………."
BUT e.g. URBE CAPTA, CIVES FUGERUNT
You can't say: "Having captured the city, the citizens fled"
Or: "When they had captured the city, the citizens fled"
This makes it sound as though they captured their own city - rather unlikely!
In sentences like this, the best way is to KEEP THE IDEA OF THE ABL. ABS. PASSIVE, and say something like:
"Since their city HAD BEEN captured, the citizens fled".
Generally just check that what you have written in English MAKES SENSE!
2. PRESENT PARTICIPLES
Step 1. Translate the words literally:
"With the NOUN VERBing, ..…."
e.g. CUSTODIBUS DORMIENTIBUS, ULIXES EQUOS CEPIT
"With the guards sleeping, Odysseus captured the horses"
Step 2. You may then want to re-phrase it using a conjunction such as "While", "When" or "Since":
"While the guards were sleeping, ……….."
"Since the guards were asleep, ……..".
3. FUTURE PARTICIPLES
3. FUTURE PARTICIPLES
Step 1. This time use the formula:
"With the NOUN about to VERB, ……."
Step 2. …which could be re-phrased into things like:
"When the general was about to leave the camp, …….."
or: "Since my friends were about to arrive, …….."
You are unlikely to meet many Future Participle Ablative Absolutes.
If you want to find out a bit more about why Ablative Absolutes are so common - and essential - in Latin, click here!
If you lack the courage, you could go straight to the Practice Sentences by clicking here….!
OK, I LIED…!
Go on, you know you want to read it really! For the good of your soul, read on - otherwise click here, and wonder eternally what you've missed…..
THE TECHNICAL STUFF
The Ablative Absolute is one of the most common uses of a participle in Latin. This is because their language is limited in what it can say by having far fewer of them than we do in English.
In English, for example, we may often say things like:
"Having heard the news, everyone rushed into the street"
"Having finished the work, we can return home".
In Latin, however, they had no equivalent ACTIVE PAST PARTICIPLE. Their Past Participle is always PASSIVE (apart from those of Deponent verbs - more on that later), and so always means: "having BEEN heard", "having BEEN finished", etc. So, similar ideas to the examples above had to be phrased in a Passive way:
"The news having BEEN heard, ………"
"The work having BEEN finished, ………".
As a result, these expressions ended up forming a separate section of the sentence, unrelated to the main clause.
So, what CASE could be used for them? It was impossible to use most of the cases in the normal way: these words were not the Subject or the Object, so couldn't be Nom or Acc; nor did they mean "of..", "to…" or "for…" - and they certainly weren't being spoken to!
In using the ABLATIVE, the Romans probably came to the same idea that we have in adding the word "WITH" to the words. It makes equal sense in English to say:
"With the work (h-b-) finished, we can return home"
SO - the words went into the Ablative case, and formed a SEPARATE part of the sentence from the Main Clause - which is what the word "ABSOLUTE" means - not as some may have thought, because 'absolutely everything goes into the Ablative….'!
What about Deponent verbs? As mentioned above, Deponent verbs do have Active Past Participles (Deponent verbs, remember, LOOK PASSIVE, but are ACTIVE in MEANING, including their participles). Sometimes therefore it was possible to say things like:
"Having set out at dawn, ……"
...because the Past Participle of proficiscor (PROFECTUS) has this Active sense. There was then no need to use the Ablative case, since these words would usually refer to a character (probably the Subject) taking part in the main idea of the sentence. It is possible to find Deponent verb Ablative Absolutes, but they are more often used in the Nominative:
"Prima luce profecti, amici ante noctem advenerunt"
"Having set out at dawn, the friends arrived before nightfall".
Did the Romans find this as useful as it would seem to us? Only Julius Caesar knows! Probably the Ablative Absolute expression came too naturally to them to make any difference. Otherwise, you'd think they'd have had more Deponent verbs!
Most of these contain Past Participles, but there are a couple with the other tenses - will you spot the Future one? Try to translate them using the 'formula' for each type first, and then improve the English. There will be several different 'right' answers: I have just made one suggestion for each.
Run your cursor over the 'Answer' lines - first to see if you have got the 'formula' correct, and then compare your own improved version with the suggestion given.
Here's one last example to get you started:
e.g. CENA MAGNA PARATA, OMNES AMICI LAETISSIMI ERANT.
Formula: With a big dinner (h-b-)prepared
Answer: When the big dinner had been prepared, all the friends were very happy.
…or you could even say:
'When the great feast was ready, ……….'
Don't be afraid to use really natural-sounding English, as long as you haven't changed the actual meaning!
1. MILITIBUS CONVOCATIS IMPERATOR HAEC VERBA DIXIT.
Formula: 'With the soldiers (h-b-) called together…'
Answer: When he had called the soldiers together, the general said these words.
2. ROMULUS SIGNO DATO IUVENES PUELLAS RAPERE IUSSIT.
Formula: 'With the signal (h-b-) given, …..'
Answer: After giving the signal, Romulus ordered the young men to seize the girls.
3. PECUNIA IN HORTO CELATA SERVI STATIM FUGERUNT.
Formula: 'With the money (h-b-) hidden in the garden, …..'
Answer: The slaves hid the money in the garden and ran off at once.
4. CETERIS URBIBUS CAPTIS TROIAM IPSAM MOX CAPIEMUS.
Formula: 'With the rest of the cities (h-b-) captured, …..'
Answer: Now that we have captured the rest of the cities, we shall soon take Troy itself.
5. SENEX ROMAM NOCTE APPROPINQUANTE TANDEM ADVENIT.
Formula: 'With night approaching, …' PRESENT participle!
Answer: The old man finally reached Rome as night was approaching.
6. AMICI VIA AD OPPIDUM INVENTA ANTE NOCTEM ADVENERUNT.
Formula: 'With the way to the town (h-b-) found, …..'
Answer: Since they'd found the way to the town, the friends arrived before nightfall.
7. FRATRE MEO PUELLAM OSCULATURO PATER EIUS INTRAVIT. (osculo - I kiss).
Formula: 'With my brother about to kiss the girl, …….' - FUTURE participle!
Answer: Just when my brother was going to kiss the girl, her father walked in.
8. MAGISTRO DORMIENTE PUERI TOGAM ABSTULERUNT.
Formula: 'With the master sleeping, ….' PRESENT participle!
Answer: While the master was asleep, the boys pinched his toga.
9. MEA SOROR ERAT TRISTISSIMA TUIS VERBIS AUDITIS.
Formula: 'With your words (h-b-) heard, ……..'
Answer: My sister was very sad when she heard your words.
10. HORATIUS IN AQUAM PONTE DELETO CUM OMNIBUS ARMIS DESILUIT (desilio - I jump down; pons, pontis - bridge).
Formula: 'With the bridge (h-b-) destroyed, ….'
Answer: Once the bridge had been destroyed, Horatius jumped down into the water in full armour.
11. EQUO OPTIMO PRETIO VENDITO AGRICOLA DOMUM REDIIT (pretium - price).
Formula: 'With the horse (h-b-) sold for a very good price, ….'
Answer: The farmer sold his horse at a really good price and returned home.
12. BENE DORMIRE POTERIMUS HOSTIBUS E PATRIA EXPULSIS.
Formula: 'With the enemy (h-b-) driven out of the country, ….'
Answer: If we drive the enemy from our country we will be able to sleep well. (Did you notice 'poterimus' was Future? We haven't driven them out yet!)
13. INGENTI TURBA CIVIUM SPECTANTE CAESAR LOQUI COEPIT.
Formula: 'With a huge crowd of citizens watching, ….' - PRESENT participle!
Answer: With a huge crowd of citizens watching, Caesar began to speak. (why change it if it sounds fine in the first place?)
14. HANNIBAL ELEPHANTIS PARATIS AD MONTES PROFECTUS EST.
Formula: 'With the elephants (h-b-) prepared, …'
Answer: Hannibal got the elephants ready and set out for the mountains.
15. DUCE EXERCITUS MONITO SAGITTA IPSE VULNERATUS SUM.
Formula:'With the leader of the army (h-b-) warned, ……'
Answer: Just after I'd warned the leader of the army, I was wounded by an arrow myself.
In these translations, I've deliberately written 'non-literal' English, to encourage you to do the same! The whole point of translating is to put it so that it sounds as natural as possible in the 'destination' language.
In LATIN, they loved to use Participles (and Ablative Absolutes most of all!)
We in English much prefer to use MAIN VERBS as much as possible. This is the key thing to remember if you want your efforts at translation to impress someone reading them.
JUST FOR FUN….
Why not see if you can create an ABL ABS in Latin yourself? It's surprisingly easy, especially using a Past Participle!
So many English expressions can be transformed into one short phrase….
e.g. Instead of using "UBI" or "POSTQUAM", how could you say:
'When they saw the girls, the young men rushed into the street.'
Step 1) Re-phrase the "When…" clause into the formula: "With the noun having-been-verbed":
i.e. "With the girls having-been-seen, ….."
Step 2) Put the NOUN into the ABL case (here Plural):
Step 3) Create a Past Participle: take the last Principal Part (Supine) and change the -UM ending to an ABL one: this can only be
-O: if the noun is masc or neut singular
-A: if the noun is fem singular
or -IS: with anything that's plural.
That will give you, here, VIS-IS.
Step 4) That's it! You have an Ablative Absolute:
- which is actually very stylish Latin!
TRY SOME MORE!
These sentences can all be re-phrased into the 'formula', whatever English conjunction is there originally.
Run your cursor over the 'Answer' line to see if you've got it right - I don't expect you to do the rest of the sentence (you can try if you like!). I've put the English 'formula' there first if you want a prompt.
1. After reading the letter, father was very angry.
Formula: With the letter (h-b-) read, …..
Answer: EPISTULA LECTA, pater iratissimus erat.
2. Since the(ir) ships had been destroyed, the sailors perished.
Formula: With the ships (h-b-) destroyed, …..
Answer: NAVIBUS DELETIS, nautae perierunt.
3. If we build a wall, we will be able to stop Caesar's army.
Formula: With a wall (h-b-) built, …..
Answer: MURO AEDIFICATO, exercitum Caesaris impedire poterimus.
4. The old man called his slave-girl and hurried out of the forum.
Formula: With the slave-girl (h-b-) called, …..
Answer: ANCILLA VOCATA, senex e foro festinavit.
5. Now that the weapons have been prepared, we can return to the camp.
Formula: With the weapons (h-b-) prepared, ……
Answer: ARMIS PARATIS, ad castra redire possumus.
6. Because the slaves had broken his sword, they were afraid of their master's anger. (This one needs 'The slaves' to go somewhere else in the sentence)
Formula: With the sword (h-b-) broken, the slaves …….
Answer: GLADIO FRACTO, servi domini iram timebant.
See how wonderfully concise in Latin that last one was (not to mention some of the others)? Only six words needed, compared with fourteen in English!
What a great language!
IF YOU GOT ANYWHERE NEAR GETTING THOSE RIGHT, YOU CAN GIVE YOURSELF A HUGE PAT ON THE BACK!
But what about trying…
THE MASTERMIND QUESTION!
Only ONE of the following 3 sentences could be re-written as an Ablative Absolute in Latin.
WHICH ONE, AND WHY CAN'T THE OTHERS?
1. When I ran into the road, I found some money.
2. When I found the money, I was very happy.
3. When I found the money, I gave it to my father.
The Answer can be found if you highlight the next bit with your cursor!
The Answer is 2: "With the money (h-b-) found, I was very happy."
PECUNIA INVENTA, laetissimus eram.
NOT 1: You can't use the verb 'CURRO' in the Passive, so it has no Past Participle ("Having-been-runned"??)! You'd have to use UBI or POSTQUAM for this one (or CUM + Subjunctive).
NOT 3: 'The money' is referred to again ("I gave IT to my father). It is therefore not 'ABSOLUTE' (completely separate).
THAT'S PROBABLY ENOUGH ABOUT ABLATIVE ABSOLUTES!