Phrases

Phrases are comprised of one or more words that form a meaningful grammatical unit. They are one of the most important elements of English grammar.

"Phrases" in the English Grammar

What Are Phrases?

A phrase consists of one or more words that form a single grammatical unit and act as a unified part of speech. If you think of a sentence as a building, phrases are like bricks of that building. They are typically part of a clause or a sentence. Phrases can consist of a one or more words.

Phrases: Structure

A phrase consists of:

  1. One head (also called Headword)
  2. Two or more modifiers

The head of a phrase is the most important word in the phrase and determines its grammatical function. For example, a phrase whose head is a noun is called a noun phrase, and a phrase whose head is a verb is called a verb phrase.
The remaining words in a phrase are called the dependents of the head. These words modify or complement the head and provide additional information that helps to clarify the meaning of the phrase. The dependents can include other nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, or other types of words that modify or describe the head.
The head is the essential part of a phrase, while not every phrase has dependents. In other words, some phrases may consist of only a head, without any dependents.

Phrase vs. Clause

A phrase does not contain a subject and verb and cannot convey a complete idea or meaning. A clause, however, does contain a subject and verb, and it can convey a complete idea.
Phrases can never stand on their own as sentences, while clauses can be complete sentences (independent clauses) or part of a sentence (dependent clauses). Let's take a look at some examples:

shouts very loudly → phrase

That man shouts very loudly → clause

This example has a subject (the man) and a verb (shouts) and conveys a complete idea.

Clauses contain phrases, and sentences contain clauses.

Phrases: Types

There are five main types of phrases in English:

  1. Noun Phrase (NP) → the cute hamster
  2. Verb Phrase (VP) → play piano
  3. Prepositional Phrase (PP) → under the table
  4. Adjective Phrase (AP) → very delighted
  5. Adverb Phrase (AdvP) → too carefully

Other Types of Phrases

There are other types of phrases apart from the main five types:

Noun Phrase

A noun phrase (NP) is a group of words that includes a noun and any modifiers that describe or qualify the noun. Noun phrases can be simple, consisting of just a noun, or complex, consisting of a noun plus one or more modifiers, such as pronouns, adjectives, or prepositional phrases.
Noun phrases can function in various grammatical roles in a sentence, such as the subject, object, or the complement

Tip

Usually, a noun phrase is just a noun or a pronoun.

Using a noun phrase

a boy with a blue hat

the girl standing over there

the house that we live in

Verb Phrase

A verb phrase includes a main verb (the head) and any modal and/or auxiliary verbs that accompany it (the dependents). The main verb is the central element of the phrase and expresses the main action or state of being in the sentence.

Tip

The main verb always appears at the end of the verb phrase.

Types of Verb Phrases

In English grammar, a verb phrase can be categorized based on the type of verb it contains:

  1. Finite Verb Phrases
  2. Non-finite Verb Phrases

Finite Verb Phrases

A finite verb phrase contains a finite verb, which is a verb that indicates tense, person, and number, and it is in the present or past tense.

I work in a bank.

I went to school.

Non-finite Verb Phrases

A non-finite verb phrase contains a non-finite verb, which is a verb that does not indicate tense, person, or number. Non-finite verb phrases cannot stand alone as a sentence, but they can function as a subject or object in a sentence or as a modifier of a noun or verb. Non-finite verb phrases come in three forms: infinitives, gerunds, and participles.

I enjoy dancing to my favorite songs.

'Dancing to my favorite songs' is a gerund non-finite verb phrase that functions as the direct object of the verb "enjoy."

To swim in the ocean is my favorite summer activity.

'To swim in the ocean' is an infinitive non-finite verb phrase that functions as the subject of the sentence.

She might have been waiting for him.

'Might have been waiting' is a participle non-finite verb phrase.

Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that includes a preposition, its object , and any modifiers of that object.
The preposition indicates the relationship between the object and the rest of the sentence. The object of the preposition can be a noun, pronoun, or gerund, and it receives the action of the preposition.

I lived near the Bakersfield's hospital.

The man with the hat is my uncle.

In the prepositional phrase 'with the hat', 'with' is the preposition, 'hat' is the object of preposition' and 'the' is the article modifying it.

Adjective Phrase

An adjective phrase is a group of words that includes an adjective and any modifiers that describe or qualify a noun or pronoun. Adjective phrases can be simple, consisting of just an adjective, or complex, consisting of an adjective plus one or more modifiers, such as adverbs or prepositional phrases. Take a look at the examples:

You have gorgeous eyes.

A simple adjective phrase

The statues masterfully carved by artists are in the museum.

A complex adjective phrase consisting of an adjective (carved) and its modifiers: an adverb (masterfully), and a prepositional phrase (by artists).

Adverb Phrases

An adverb phrase is a group of words that includes an adverb as its head, along with any modifiers of that adverb. Adverb phrases can function as adverbs, modifying verbs, or adjectives in a sentence.

I will come as soon as possible.

Luckily for me, the bus arrived just in time.

Tip!

We have two types of phrases:

  • Grammatical phrases: function as a unit within a sentence and serve grammatical purposes
  • Common phrases: phrases or idioms frequently used in everyday language which have a specific (sometimes metaphorical or figurative) meaning

Gerund Phrases

Gerund phrases are groups of words that include a gerund, which is a verb form ending in -ing that functions as a noun. Gerund phrases also include any modifiers of the gerund, such as adverbs, prepositional phrases, or adjectives.
Gerund phrases can also function as objects of prepositions, direct objects, or subject complements, just like any other noun.

Eating healthy food is essential for your body.

The gerund phrase 'eating healthy food' is the subject of the sentence.

We are looking forward to camping in the wilderness.

The gerund phrase 'camping in the wilderness' is object of preposition.

Infinitive Phrases

Infinitive phrases are groups of words that include an infinitive, which is the base form of a verb preceded by "to." An infinitive phrase may also include any modifiers of the infinitive, such as adverbs, adjectives, or noun phrases. Infinitive phrases can function as direct objects, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. Pay attention to the examples:

I wish to make a complaint.

The infinitive phrase functions as the direct object of the verb.

He works hard to support his family.

The infinitive phrase 'to support his family' functions as an adverb modifying the verb 'works'.

Participle Phrases

Participle phrases are groups of words that function as adjectives in a sentence. They include a participle, which is a verb form that can function as an adjective, and any modifiers of the participle. For example:

The continually crying baby was hungry.

The sadly devastated man killed himself.

Appositive Phrases

Appositive phrases are groups of words that include an appositive and the noun or pronoun it renames or describes. Appositive phrases can also function as explanatory phrases, providing additional information about a noun or pronoun. Pay attention to the examples:

Mary Lou, my friend, wears glasses.

Center City, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, is a very lovely neighborhood.

Review

In this article, we have learned about phrases. They are words that are put together with no subjects and verbs. In this case, they cannot have a complete meaning. There are some main phrases and some other ones as follows:

main phrases 1. noun phrase 2. verb phrase 3. prepositional phrase 4. adjective phrase 5. adverb phrase
other types of phrases 1. conjunctional phrase 3. interjectional phrase 5. gerund phrase
2. participial phrase 4. infinitive phrase 6. appositive phrase

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Noun Phrases

When a group of nouns come together, they form a noun phrase. To know what is a noun phrase and how short or how long a noun phrase can be, start here!

Verb Phrases

It's time to learn how to identify the verb phrase in a sentence. Learning about verb phrases is essential in speaking and writing without mistakes.

Prepositional Phrases

What are prepositional phrases? Generally, as its name requires, prepositional phrases are phrases made of prepositions. To get to know them, read the article.

Adjective Phrases

Phrases are two or more words that can function as specific parts of speech. Adjective phrases are groups of words that function as adjectives.

Adverbial Phrases

Adverbial phrases are made of two or more words and are used as the adverb of the sentence. In this lesson, you will get to know phrasal verbs.

Infinitive Phrases

Infinitive phrases are phrases that look like infinitives but they are used in special positions.
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