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What's an Ablative Absolute?

An "ablative absolute" is made up of a noun and a participle in the ablative. It's called an absolute because it's grammatically independent from the rest of the sentence. It's usually found with Perfect Passive Participles but can be used with any participle. It describes circumstances which apply when the main action of the sentence happens, and you can translate it as "with"...

For example, 

naves omnibus civibus spectantibus profectae sunt

With all the citizens watching the ships set out.

Sometimes you don't need words like "with" or "having been" because it doesn't sound very nice when translated into English. 

For example,

his rebus factis, senatores discesserunt

These things done, the senators left. 

If you want to make your translation sound more fluent and like better English, it's acceptable to make the perfect passive participle into an active verb. 

For example, 

his verbis auditis, puellae laetissimae erant.

A literal translation would be:

With these words having been heard, the girls very happy

But it would sound more natural to say, 

When they heard these words, the girls were very happy.

An ablative absolute usually comes at the beginning of the sentece and it might be separated from the rest by a comma.

The verb "to be" (esse) does not have a present participle, but do not fret! Ablative phrases with "being" don't have a participle in the sentence, but they are easily spotted.

For example, 

Caesare duce hostes vicimus

With Caesar as leader, we conquered the enemy.

Or, even better...

Under Caesar's leadership, we conquered the enemy. 

Ablative absolutes can look a bit weird, but they're easily recognisable and nothing to worry about! The trick with them, as with all constructions in Latin, is to know all your cases and declensions really well. 

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