Genitive absolute

In Ancient Greek grammar, the genitive absolute is a grammatical construction consisting of a participle and often a noun both in the genitive case, which is very similar to the ablative absolute in Latin. A genitive absolute construction serves as a dependent clause, usually at the beginning of a sentence, in which the genitive noun is the subject of the dependent clause and the participle takes on the role of predicate.

The term absolute comes from the Latin absolutus, literally meaning "made loose". That comes from the general truth that the genitive absolute usually does not refer to anything in the independent clause; however, there are many exceptions, notably in the New Testament and in Koine.[1]


Below are some examples of the genitive absolute, in different tenses.

(1) ἔαρος ἀρχομένου, οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἔπλευσαν εἰς Προκόννησον[2]
éaros arkhoménou, hoi Athēnaîoi épleusan eis Prokónnēson
When spring was beginning, the Athenians sailed to Proconnesus.

This first example shows how a genitive absolute with a present participle is used with simultaneous actions. The independent clause is "οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἔπλευσαν εἰς Προκόννησον" ("the Athenians sailed to Proconnesus"). The dependent clause and genitive absolute in this example is "ἔαρος ἀρχομένου" ("when spring was beginning"). In this example, the two events occur at the same time.

(2) τὸν δὲ Κῦρον ἦγον ἔσω οἱ θεράποντες, κελεύσαντος τοῦ Ἀστυάγεος[3]
tòn dè Kûron êgon ésō hoi therápontes, keleúsantos toû Astuágeos
The servants led Cyrus inside, after Astyages gave the order.

This example shows a genitive absolute with an aorist participle. The independent clause in this sentence, "τὸν Κῦρον ἦγον ἔσω οἱ θεράποντες", explains what happens ("...the slaves led Cyrus inside."). The genitive absolute, "κελεύσαντος τοῦ Ἀστυάγεος", provides the reader with additional information ("after Astyages had ordered (it)..."). Here, the conjunction after indicates that the two events do not happen simultaneously, as they do with the present genitive absolute.

The perfect participle describes a situation which was already in existence at the time of the action of the main verb, for example:

(3) ἤδη δ’ ἐψηφισμένων Θετταλῶν, ... ἧκεν[4]
ḗdē d’ epsēphisménōn Thettalôn, ... hêken
Since the Thessalians had already voted ... he came back

The future is less often used in a genitive absolute. It is generally found after the particle ὡς (hōs) "in view of the fact that" or "on the grounds that",[5] for example:

(4) ὡς πάντων καλῶς γενησομένων[6]
hōs pántōn kalôs genēsoménōn
on the grounds that everything would turn out well

Absolute constructions in other languagesEdit

Absolute constructions occur with other grammatical cases in Indo-European languages, such as the accusative absolute in Ancient Greek, German, and late Latin, ablative absolute in Latin, dative absolute in Gothic and Old Church Slavonic, and locative absolute in Vedic Sanskrit.[7] Compare also nominative absolute in English. An actual genitive absolute exists in German, such as klopfenden Herzens "(with) his/her heart beating", although its use is much less prominent compared to Greek (or to Latin's ablative or English's nominative in such constructions).


  1. ^ Fuller, Lois K. (2006). "The "Genitive Absolute" in New Testament/Hellenistic Greek: A Proposal for Clearer Understanding" (PDF). Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. 3: 142–167. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  2. ^ Xenophon, Hellenica 1.3.1.
  3. ^ Herodotus, 1.116.3.
  4. ^ Aeschines, 3.161
  5. ^ Smyth. A Greek grammar for colleges. § 2086.
  6. ^ Plutarch, Nic. 10.6
  7. ^ Benjamin W. Fortson IV (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. p. 149. ISBN 1-4051-0315-9.

External linksEdit

  • Katanik, blog entry explaining the genitive absolute in Ancient Greek in few easy terms.
  • LOY Excursus: The Genitive Absolute in the Synoptic Gospels ( contains a complete list of the instances of the genitive absolute in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as in the Septuagint's Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).