jaw set


She moved along the seat before the dressing table until she could no longer see his reflection. (.....) His big jaw set, watching her levelly, he moved over to where his image was before her in the mirror again, casually, as he was putting on the breeches. Karen watched him do it, knowing what he was doing now, yet still unable to keep her nerves from jangling like a plucked guitar string.
From here to eternity by James Jones.

How do I understand jaw set ? Am I right that watching refers to he, not to jaw set ?

Thank you
  • Pbai

    American English
    "Set" in this sentence is an adjective. I believe "to set one's jaw" means to be determined. Perhaps literally his jaw is shut or clenched, and he looks serious...

    And yes, obviously, it's the man that is watching her.


    Senior Member
    English - AE
    I think you're looking for:

    (of a person's expression) held for an unnaturally long time without changing, typically as a reflection of determination. - OED
    set is a great many pages in my dictionary, so I can see how picking the right one out might be confusing!

    It makes more sense to me that he is watching rather than jaw. Perhaps it would help to drop the first part of the sentence and read it like so: "Watching her levelly, he moved over to..."


    yes, I understand that:)
    But what I meant was:
    His big jaw set, watching her levelly, he moved over to where his image...

    As far I understand the red and green fragments both are participial phrases. The green one is an ordinary phrase (how I could say it in Russian) where watching refers to he. But the red one is an absolute participial clause, am I right?
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The segment in red is a phrase, which could be expressed as "With his jaw set". "Set" is the past participle here. I prefer the term absolute phrase rather than absolute clause, since there is no finite verb.

    The green one is a participial phrase, which is used as an adjective phrase to modify "he".
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