genitive absolute

A noun and a participle in the genitive case with no obvious connection to anything else in the sentence is a “genitive absolute”.  You will translate genitive absolutes with a dependent clause.  If a noun is supplied, then that noun will be the subject of the dependent clause (even though it is genitive).  The participle will become the main verb. GGBB 654.  For the DMW, you need to know the tense of the participle:

  • If present, use “while” or “because”;
  • If aorist, use “after”.
present tense And the sea was aroused because a great wind was blowing. ἥ τε θάλασσα ἀνέμου μεγάλου πνέοντος διεγείρετο. (John 6:18)
aorist tense But other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. ἀλλὰ ἦλθεν πλοῖα ἐκ Τιβεριάδος ἐγγὺς τοῦ τόπου ὅπου ἔφαγον τὸν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσαντος τοῦ κυρίου. (John 6:23)

Machen (p124):

A noun or pronoun with a participle often stands out of connection with the rest of the sentence in the construction called the genitive absolute.


(1) εἰπόντων ταῦτα τῶν ἀποστόλων οἱ μαθηταὶ ἀπῆλθον, the apostles having said these things, the disciples went away. Here εἰπόντων and τῶν ἀποστόλων stand in the genitive absolute. ἀποστόλων is not the subject of any verb, the subject of the only finite verb in the sentence being μαθηταί, nor has it any other connection with the framework of the sentence. It is therefore absolute (the word means “loosed” or “separated”). In the English translation, the apostles having said is in the absolute case, which in English grammar is called the nominative absolute. But this nominative absolute is very much less common in English than the genitive absolute is in Greek. Usually, therefore, it is better to translate the Greek genitive absolute by a clause, thus giving up any attempt at a “literal” translation. For example, instead of the “literal” translation of the sentence just given, it would have been better to translate, when (or after) the apostles had said these things, the disciples went away. Of course all that has already been said about the tense of the participle applies to the participle in the genitive absolute as well as in other constructions.

It should be noticed that the genitive absolute is used only when the noun or pronoun going with the participle is different from the subject of the finite verb. Thus in the sentence, εἰπόντες ταῦτα οἱ ἀπόστολοι ἀπῆλθον, the apostles, having said these things, went away, or when the apostles had said these things they went away, the word ἀπόστολοι has a construction in the sentence; it is the subject of the leading verb ἀπῆλθον. Therefore it is not “absolute.” But in the former example it is not the apostles but some one else that is represented as performing the action denoted by the leading verb. Hence, in that former example ἀποστόλων is not the subject of the sentence but genitive absolute.

(2) λέγοντος αὐτοῦ ταῦτα οἱ μαθηταὶ ἀπῆλθον, while he was saying these things, the disciples went away. Compare λέγων ταῦτα ἀπῆλθεν, while he was saying these things he went away or he went away saying these things.

(3) τῶν μαθητῶν διδαχθέντων ὑπὸ τοῦ κυρίου ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἔρημον οἱ δοῦλοι, when the disciples had been taught by the Lord, the servants went out into the desert. Compare οἱ μαθηταὶ διδαχθέντες ὑπὸ τοῦ κυρίου ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἔρημον, when the disciples had been taught by the Lord, they went out into the desert.

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