The Phrase

This page was first published on the 2nd of May, 2017 and last updated on the 2dn of May, 2017 by Patrick Carpen.

phrase photoThe phrase is a sentence unit; words, clauses and phrases are the three units which are often combined to make up a sentence. All sentences are made up of words, but very simple sentences may not contain both clause and phrase. For example, the sentence, “The boy is tall.”, is a one-clause sentence with no phrase unit. However, most sentences contain some words/phrase/clause or words/phrases/clauses combination. A sentence may contain two or more phrases and clauses.

A sentence differs from a clause in this way: it does not contain both a subject and a verb.

So what really is a phrase? The phrase may be defined as: A group of two or more words which express a single but incomplete idea and does not contain both a subject and verb.


Kinds of Phrases

Phrases are categorized in two ways:

  1. How they are formed.
  2. The part of speech they function as in sentence.

By formation, the types of phrases are as follows:

  1. The prepositional phrase.
  2. The infinitive phrase
  3. The participial phrase
  4. The gerund phrase.

In terms of part-of-speech, the phrase may be classified as follows:

1. The noun phrase.

2. The adjective phrase.

3. The adverbial phrase.

The Prepositional Phrase

The prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition, the objects of the preposition and the modifiers of the object. Example: on the small table.

on = preposition

the table = object of the preposition

small = modifier of the object of the preposition.

The Infinitive Phrase

The infinitive phrase is made of an infinite, the object of the infinitive and the modifiers of the object. Here is an example: to buy some apples.

to buy = infinitive

apples = object of the infinitve

some = modifier of the object

The Participial Phrase

A participle is the adjective form of a verb. Here’s an example: I saw a light shining brightly.

The word “shining” is a verb, since it denotes action; but it is also an adjective since it modifies the word “light”: a shining light.

A verb which is also used as an adjective is called a participle. Participles introduce participial phrases. Here  are some examples:

Hearing a noise, I went outside.

I heard a noise coming from the far end of the room.

The Gerund Phrase

The gerund is a verb, ending in “ing”, which is also used as a noun. Here is an example:

I like swimming.

Gerunds introduce gerund phrases. Here is an example:

Saturday night is the best time for listening to music.

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