As we know a complete sentence in grammar is made up of units. One such unit is a phrase. Let us learn about phrases, their meaning, syntax and some types of phrases that we see in English grammar like noun phrases, verb phrases, prepositional phrase etc.
A phrase is a group or combination of two or more words. It is a unit of a complete sentence. By itself, a phrase is not a complete sentence, as it does not relay a complete thought. It does not contain the subject and the predicate both, so it is not a clause either.
The length of the phrase may differ from two words to many more words. This does not have any connection to whether it is a phrase or a sentence. For example “old dog” is a phrase. So is “the old, smelly, shivering dog” is also a phrase.
Types of Phrases
1] Noun Phrases
These are the phrases contains a noun- name, place or things and at least one modifier associated to the noun. The modifier can prefix or suffix the noun. The entire phrase will act as a noun for that particular sentence. Here are some examples,
- He was wearing a black linen shirt.
- They lived in a small, tidy cottage
- Alex rode her old bicycle to their shiny new school
- The black car got towed.
2] Verb Phrases
Every sentence will generally contain a verb. But sometimes the action being described requires a more nuanced multi-words verb phrase. The phrase consists of the main verb/verbs and then auxiliary verbs, i.e. helping verbs. Some such verb phrases are as follows,
- The teacher is writing the answer
- They have been playing since the last two hours
- You must call your mom at once
- He has taken the dog along
3] Prepositional Phrase
Any phrase that consists of a preposition, and the object of the preposition, which will be a noun or a pronoun s what we call a prepositional phrase. Such a phrase also at times consists of other modifiers describing the object of the prepositional phrase. Let us look at some examples,
- Students are advised to be on time
- Please turn towards the right at the intersection
Now there are certain times where a prepositional phrase will act as an adjective for a sentence. It will be the answer to the question “which one?”. For example,
- Please get the book above the cupboard. (Which book?)
- The student at the end of the line is misbehaving again. (Which student?)
And then the prepositional phrase can be seen as the adverb of a sentence. How? Where? or When? are the questions that it answers.
- The cat is hiding behind the tree. (Where is the cat?)
- The family headed to church after breakfast. (When did the family leave?)
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4] Infinitive Phrases
A phrase that includes an infinitive along with a simple verb is an infinitive phrase. There may also be modifiers attached to the object in the phrase, It contains a verb, so it plays the role of expressing an action in the sentence. Infinitive phrases can act as a noun, adjective or adverb in a complete sentence.
- Alex likes to read comics (functions as a noun here)
- To attend the morning lecture, I set my alarm for 6 am. (noun form)
- To keep his dogs calm, Alex turned on the radio. (functions as an adverb here)
5] Participle Phrases
A participle phrase will begin with a participle, which can be a present participle (ending with -ing) or a past participle (ending with -ed). There may be a few modifiers and associated words included in the phrase. One thing to remember is that a participle phrase always takes the form of an adjective in a sentence. Some examples of the participle phrase are,
- We got a call from my aunt today telling us the good news.
- The house was severely damaged by the flood.
- Please sit down without making a sound
6] Gerund Phrases
Now a gerund is a word that invariably ends with “-ing”, without exception. So a gerund phrase is a phrase that contains an ‘ing” word, with some modifiers in some cases. But participle phrases also have a similar pattern (-ing words), so how do you tell the difference between the two?
Well while participle phrases function as adjectives, Gerund Phrases exclusively function as nouns. Let us look at some examples,
- She is currently writing her memoir.
- Washing the dishes is Alex’s chore
- Waking up before sunrise had become his habit.
7] Absolute Phrase
An absolute phrase will contain a noun or a pronoun with a participle. Again it may also contain additional associative words and modifiers. An absolute participle will modify a whole clause, or even a whole sentence, not only one word. However, it does not constitute a complete sentence or a clause. Generally, an absolute phrase is separated by commas. Let us take a look at a few examples,
He looked towards the beggar, his face expressing pity
We were glued to the match, our eyes always following the ball.
He sat on the bed, his clothes neatly folded by his side.
Solved Question for You
Q: She went to the tiny red house on the hill. Identify the type of phrase.
Sol: This is a noun phrase. It consists of one noun (house) and two modifiers for the noun (tiny, red).