Free Modifiers

(Based on Francis Christensen's Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence; adapted from a handout developed by Glen Broadhead and Jim Berlin, both at Wichita State University in the late 1970s)


A main clause is any BSP or any BSP + its bound modifiers.


subordinate clauses, verb clusters, adjective clusters, noun clusters, absolutes, free relative clauses.


Add a clause subordinator to the beginning of any main clause, then supply a new main clause to support it.

Jim arrived early.
Since Jim arrived early,
Since Jim arrived early, he didn't have to wait.

Clause Subordinators: after, although, as, because, before, even though, if, once, since, though, unless, until, when


Clusters are made by using a cross-over pattern. Three types of clusters are explained below: verb clusters, noun clusters, and adjective clusters.


Cross-over the -ing form of the verb in a main clause of BSP-1 or BSP-2.

The man escaped from jail.
The man was escaping from jail.
Escaping from jail, the man chuckled.

The man bribed the jailer.
The man was bribing the jailer.
Bribing the jailer, the man committed a felony.


Cross-over the second noun in a BSP-3.

Jim is a fireman in Chicago.
A fireman in Chicago, Jim knows the town well.

You can place the noun cluster after the word it modifies:

Jim, a fireman from Chicago, knows the town well.


Cross-over the adjective in a BSP-4, or the -ed form of the verb in a passive voice sentence.

Jim was angry over the umpire's call.
Angry over the umpire's call, Jim snarled an insult.

The hymn was sung well by the choir.
Sung well by the choir, the hymn moved the worshippers.


Replace a noun with a relative pronoun and then re-insert the noun in a new main clause.

Relative Pronouns: who, whom, whose which, that, (somethimes where)

Dogs are mammals.
which are mammals
Dogs, which are mammals, make good pets.

The book was given to Mary.
which was given to Mary
The book, which was given to Mary, contained here life story.

Relative clauses may be either bound or free. If they are essential to the meaning of the sentence, they are bound and are NOT set off with commas. If they can be removed without inter- fering with the meaning of the sentence, they are free, and are set off with commas.

Another way of distinguishing bound from free relative clauses is to ask yourself if the clause contains information that is used to identify the preceding noun, or if it contains information that simply expands the idea. If the information identifies a noun, the clause is bound and does not receive commas. If the information only expands the information, the clause is free and should be set off with commas.

Most free relative clauses referring to non persons are signaled with the pronoun "which." Most bound relative clauses referring to non persons are signaled with the pronoun "that."

The annual report, which was written in only one day, caused a disturbance in administration.

The report that is over there was written yesterday.


Absoulutes can be made from any of the four BSPs or the passive voice by expanding the verb to an -ing and removing the helping verb.

FOR EXAMPLE: For BSPs 1 and 2, expand the verb to an -ing form and remove the helping verb. Then add a totally new main clause.

His nose was running.
His nose running, Frank looked awful.

For BSPs 3 & 4, take away the linking verb or change it to an ing form.

His mother was a top executive in the company.
His mother being a top executive in the company, Tom felt certain he wouldn't have to begin his career in the mail room.

His hands were blue from the cold.
His hands blue from the cold, Frank huddled over the fire.

All things are equal.
All things being equal, it was a worthwhile trip.

Try transforming a passive voice.

The letter was delayed by the Post Office strike.
The letter having been delayed by the Post Office strike, Tom didn't know that his mother had disinherited him.

Annother way to think of absolutes is to recognize them as consisting of a subject plus one of the clusters, even a prepositional phrase cluster (The cards on the table, there was nothing left to do but to concede defeat.)


1. Slender and graceful, her eyes filling with tears, Brenda completed her skating routine, her long hair whipped by her speed.

2. He sat and watched as the train slowly went past--the large boxcars tilting back and forth, the flatbed carrying semi-trucks piggyback, the rails binding beneath the weight of the train, the wheels endlessly spinning around until, just a short while after eternity, the caboose wandered by.

3. As a designer of clothes, an admirer of beauty, and a collector of artifacts, she enjoyed visiting museums.

4. Frightened, confused, giggling hysterically, Lucille collapsed into the nearest fountain.

5. He drove to school, gazing at the morning sun, wiping the sleep from his eyes, preparing his mind for the coming activities of the day.

6. Gray-bearded and toothless, dressed in jockey shorts and a stash bag, he walked up and down the sidewalk, restlessly waiting to begin.

7. In the early evening, as the sun went down, shining its brilliant colors through the sky, he stood transfixed, watching the playful ponies in the pasture, listening to the sounds of chirping crickets and the nocturnal world of insects and animals coming to life, and realizing with awe that the complex workings of nature made him feel insignificant.

8. In the spring, for example, runoff from melting snow can carry a tremendous amount of silt to the river, causing increased turbidity.

9. Horticulturists usually fall within two distinct categories: 1) those utilizing man-made fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and 2) those favoring the use of natural agents in garden maintenance.

10. The last period, the twentieth century, is the most difficult to classify, perhaps because we don't yet have the perspective needed to judge.

11. An ascertained from systematic qualitative observation, Baetis shodani and an unidentified chironomid species were co- dominants at the Arkansas River's Udall station, though hydrophilids and notonectids were abundant also, particularly within the sammon community along the depositional eastern shoreline.

12. He strode along the corridor, clumping loudly in his heavy boots, almost imperceptibly pausing every so often to shake his hair back from his face.