Phrases | Definitions, Types, and Examples
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Overview of Phrases:
A phrase is a group of words that work as a unit in a sentence and does not include a subject and a verb.
Dad and I, a detective story, will have to go, to learn English, on the bank of the river, a very exciting story
Both phrases and clauses are groups of words. The difference is a clause has a subject and predicate, while a phrase doesn't.
Dad and I (a phrase)
When Dad and I were at the mall (a clause)
a detective story (a phrase)
I read a detective story. (a clause)
Dan ate the last sandwich.
It has been raining since 3 o'clock.
It was a long but interesting movie.
We replied to the email as quickly as possible.
I ran into an old friend.
Headquartered in Florida, Bank America is a banking giant.
The major types of phrases in English include noun phrases, verb phrases, prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, participial phrases, adjectival phrases, adverbial phrases, appositive phrases, and gerund phrases.
A noun phrase is a noun or pronoun combined with its dependent words or modifiers. A noun phrase has two parts: the head (noun or pronoun) and the dependent words. Noun phrases function as nouns in sentences. Seldom does a noun function on its own in writing, and it is almost always found within a noun phrase.
Do you know the boy leading the school team? (The boy is the head word, and leading the school team is the dependent part.)
This is the train to New York. (The train is the head word, and to New York is the dependent part.)
The Function of Noun Phrases
Since every noun phrase is essentially a noun, it can function as a subject, an object, or a complement in a sentence.
The new store is ready to open. (The noun phrase the new store is the subject.)
We ate fresh fruit and vegetables for breakfast. (The noun phrase "fresh fruit and vegetables" is the object of the verb ate.)
Nancy is a singer in the making. (The noun phrase a singer in the making is a subject complement following the linking verb is.)
A verb phrase is a main verb combined with its auxiliary or helping verb. Helping verbs include am, is, are, was, were, has, had, does, did, could, would, should, might, and so on. A verb phrase has two parts: the head verb and its complements, objects, and modifiers which together or separately act as the dependents.
Liam is visiting his grandmother.
To travel overseas, you need a passport.
The Function of Verb Phrases
A verb phrase can be used as a predicate, an adverb, or an adjective in a sentence.
Sophia will be playing tennis in the evening. (The verb phrase will be playing tennis in the evening is used as a predicate.)
Give the dog healthy food to help it live a more rewarding life. (The verb phrase to help it live a more rewarding life is used as an adverb for "give".)
The best way to learn math is practicing it every day. (The verb phrase to learn math is used as an adjective for way.)
A prepositional phrase is a preposition combined with the object of preposition and any other modifiers. Every prepositional phrase has a noun or pronoun.
The dog is sleeping on the bed.
It has been raining since morning.
Children are playing in the park.
The Function of Prepositional Phrases
A prepositional phrase can be used as an adjective or an adverb.
The boy in the black sweater is my brother. (The prepositional phrase in the black sweater is an adjective as it describes the noun boy.)
Nathan goes jogging before breakfast. (The prepositional phrase before breakfast is an adverb as it tells when Nathan goes jogging.)
A participial phrase is a participle combined with other modifiers and direct objects and sometimes subject complements. Participial phrases function as adjectives in sentences.
Attending evening lessons for two months, Kevin managed to pass the test. (The participial phrase "attending evening lessons for two months" is functioning as an adjective describing Kevin.)
An infinitive phrase is an infinitive combined with other modifiers or objects. Infinitive phrases can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.
To graduate from a word-class university is Hanna's biggest dream. (The infinite phrase to graduate from a word-class university is functioning as a noun.)
Swimming is a proven way to improve fitness. (The infinitive phrase to improve fitness is functioning as an adjective as it describes the noun way.)
Mark is going out to eat dinner. (The infinitive phrase to eat dinner is functioning as an adverb as it describes the verb going out.)
An adjectival phrase is a group of words that functions as an adjective in a sentence. Adjectival phrases may be formed with two or more adjectives, an adjective with an intensifier, prepositional or participial phrases, and any other dependents. An adjectival phrase describes a noun or a pronoun.
This is the most famous bookstore in the city.
Alex is fond of chocolate cakes.
She is the wittiest, prettiest, and smartest person I know.
The food was quite expensive.
Answering every question correctly, Maria came first in the contest.
Prepositional Phrases Used as Adjectival Phrases
We have already explained how prepositional phrases can sometimes double as adjectival phrases.
The book on the table is mine. (The prepositional phrase "on the table" is also an adjectival phrase here as it describes the book.)
Participial Phrases Used as Adjectival Phrases
Participial phrases are used as adjectival phrases in sentences.
Throwing a lavish party for friends, William celebrated his birthday. (The participial phrase throwing a lavish party for friends is an adjectival phrase as it describes the noun William.)
Infinitive Phrases Used as Adjectival Phrases
Infinitive phrases are sometimes used as adjectival phrases.
This book is an ideal resource to know more about America. (The infinitive phrase to know more about America is also an adjectival phrase as it describes the noun resource.)
The Function of Adjectival Phrases
An adjectival phrase can be used as a subject complement or object complement.
The food smells nice and delicious. (The adjectival phrase nice and delicious is used as a subject complement.)
Reading for hours makes Grandma extremely happy. (The adjectival phrase extremely happy is used as an object complement.)
Formed with an adverb and its modifiers, an adverbial phrase is a group of words that functions as an adverb in a sentence. Like an adverb, an adverbial phrase can modify a verb, an adverb, or an adjective.
Oliver found the information on the internet. (The adverbial phrase on the internet modifies the verb found.)
To go to the new park, I had to drive for about 10 minutes. (The adverbial phrase for about 10 minutes modifies the verb drive.)
Living in the countryside is good for our health. (The adverbial phrase for our health modifies the adjective good.)
Infinitive Phrases Used as Adverbial Phrases
To make the guests feel special, we cooked delicious food. (The infinitive phrase to make the guests feel special is also an adverbial phrase as it modifies the verb cooked.)
Prepositional Phrases Used as Adverbial Phrases
Matt studies in New York High School. (The prepositional phrase "in New York High School" is also an adverbial phrase as it modifies the verb studies.)
Adverbial phrases Explaining How, When, and Where
Similar to adverbs, adverbial phrases tell us how, where, or when an action happens.
The Millers paint their house in early December. (The adverbial phrase in early December tells when the Millers paint.)
Read every line of the poem very carefully. (The adverbial phrase very carefully tells us how to read the poem.)
Stop the car right in front of the supermarket. (The adverbial phrase right in front of the supermarket tells us where to stop the car.)
A gerund phrase is a gerund combined with its modifiers and objects. Gerund Phrases function as subjects, objects, or subject complements.
Taking regular breaks during work is a good practice. (The gerund phrase taking regular breaks during work functions as a subject.)
Daniel loves eating eggs for breakfast. (The gerund phrase eating eggs for breakfast functions as an object.)
An appositive phrase is a noun phrase that identifies or gives another name to the noun next to it.
Mayor Arthur Robes brought in many new reforms. ("Arthur Robes" is an appositive phrase in the sentence as it identifies or gives another name to "mayor".)