What is a Phrase? – Definition, Types & Examples of Phrases

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A phrase is a collection of related words that does not include a subject and verb. (If the group of associated words does have a subject and verb, it is considered a clause.) There are more than a few dissimilar kinds of phrases. Comprehending how they are constructed and how they function within a sentence can reinforce a writer’s poise in writing sentences that are sound in structure and different in form.


Noun Phrase

A noun phrase is made up of noun (perceptibly) and any connected modifiers:

The long and winding road.

A noun phrase

any associated modifiers

The modifiers that follow a noun can take any number of forms and amalgamation of forms:

adjectives, for example “the tall and brilliant lecturer”);

a participial phrase (“the road next to the train station”);

an infinitive phrase (“the first man to fly the airplane “);

a modifying clause (“the lesson that he had given the week before”);

and prepositional phrases (“the shops next to the hotel down the road “).

Normally, , a noun phrase will be all of a piece, all the words that make it up being adjoining to the noun itself. It is likely, though, for a noun phrase to be out of order, to become what we refer to as being discontinuous. Every now and then part of the noun phrase is delayed until the end of the sentence in order that that part of the phrase (typically modifying phrases — participial or prepositional) can obtain end weight or spotlight. In our first instance, for instance (noun phrase in is represented in bold) ,

A lot of accidents have been reported recently involving passengers falling from trains.

We could as well put the whole noun phrase together: “A lot of accidents involving passengers falling from trains have been reported recently.” Moving the position of the modifying phrases of the red-colored portion of the phrase to the end puts extra stress on that section of the sentence.

See a few more examples below:

A rumor circulated among the staff that he was being promoted to Vice Principal rather than “A rumor that he was being promoted to Vice Principal circulated among the staff.”)

The time had come to stop wasting money stupidly and to save something for the future instead of “The time to stop wasting money stupidly and to save something for the future had come.”

That network card was faulty that you sold me. Rather than “That network card that you sold me was faulty.”)

What concern is it of yours? Rather “What concern of yours is it? “)

Evidently, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a broken noun phrase. One extremely good reason for a broken noun phrase is to attain a balance between a subject and its predicate:

The story is told that he was once a soldier in Nigeria Foreign Legion.

Without the broken noun phrase in the sentence above, we wind up with a twelve-word subject, a linking verb, and a one-word predicate — kind of asymmetrical and unbalanced.

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One thing you want to look out for with noun phrases is the long complex noun phrase. This is occasionally known as the “stacked noun phrase” or “packed noun phrase.” It is common to meet one noun modifying another like the following:  student body, room table book cover, water commission. But when we produce a long thread of such attributive nouns or modifiers, we produce difficulties:

People who write web contents have realized what is now referred to as the standardized resource locator etiquette difficulty.

noun phrase includes a noun which can be a person, place, or thing—and the modifiers—either before or after—which differentiate it. The prototype looks like the following:

Optional Modifier (s) + Noun + Optional Modifier (s)

See a few examples below:

The shoplifted pair of shoes

Pair = noun; the, shoplifted, of shoes = modifiers.

A goat that refused to bleat

Cat = noun; a, that refused to meow = modifiers.

A grand English teacher

Teacher = noun; a, great, English = modifiers.

Noun phrases function as subjects, objects, and complements:

The shoplifted pair of shoes caused David so much guilt that he couldn’t wear them.

The shoplifted pair of shoes = subject.

Job bought a goat that refused to bleat.

A goat that refused to bleat = direct object.

With her love of English Language and broad knowledge of grammar, Jessica will one day be a grand English teacher.

A grand English teacher = subject complement.

A Vocative

This is an addressed person’s name or alternate name. It is frequently a single word but occasionally it takes the form of a noun phrase. A vocative is constantly treated as a parenthetical element and is therefore set out from the rest of the sentence with a comma or a pair of commas (if it becomes visible within the flow of a sentence). When vocatives are proper nouns (more often than not the case), they are as well known as as “nouns of address.”

Vocatives are equivalent to adverbs: they can appear nearly anywhere in the sentence. Do not, nevertheless, get into the habit of throwing commas at people’s names; except the name refers to somebody who is in reality being addressed, it is not a vocative and will not essentially be parenthetical:

He told Jay to turn the car around.

Jay, turn the boat around

Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition, a noun or pronoun that acts as the object of the preposition, and, usually, an adjective or two that modifies the object.

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At the minimum, a prepositional phrase will start with a preposition and end with a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause, the “object” of the preposition.

The object of the preposition will frequently have one or more modifiers to explain it. Below are the patterns for a prepositional phrase:

Preposition + Noun, Pronoun, Gerund, or Clause

Preposition + Modifier(s) + Noun, Pronoun, Gerund, or Clause

A few examples have been shown below:

On time

On = preposition; time = noun.

Underneath the flabby yellow sofa

Underneath = preposition; the, flabby, yellow = modifiers; couch = noun.

From eating too much

From = preposition; eating = gerund; too, much = modifiers.

A prepositional phrase will act as an adjective or adverb. As an adjective, the prepositional phrase will answer the question Which one?

See the examples below:

The cat above the kitchen roof has just caught a big rat.

Which cat? The one above the kitchen roof!

The receptionist at the check-in desk smiles whenever she receives a fresh visitor.

Which receptionist? The one at the check-in desk!

The vegetables on Jacob’s plate lay untouched the whole meal.

Which vegetables? The ones on Jacob’s plate!

As an adverb, a prepositional phrase will answer questions like How? When? or Where?

While sitting in the canteen, Joel shoots peas with a spoon.

How did Joel throw those peas? With a spoon!

After mealtime, we heaped up the dirty dishes in the sink.

When did we disregard the dirty dishes? After mealtime!

The driver eventually discovers the umbrella stuck fast under the passenger’s front seat.

Where did the driver discover the umbrella? Under the passenger’s front seat!

As we have seen, prepositional phrases typically tell when or where. More examples: “in twenty minutes,” “in the moon, adjacent to the side, etc.” Prepositional phrases can perform other functions, however:

Except Jo, the children were remarkably like their father.

A prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence is made up of an introductory modifier, which is typically a signal for a comma. Nevertheless, unless an introductory prepositional phrase is abnormally long, we rarely require to follow it with a comma.

Ending a sentence with a preposition is a grave grammatical error.

Appositive Phrase

An appositive is a re-naming or intensification of a word that directly comes before it. (An appositive, then is the opposite of an oppositive.) Commonly one more type of phrase will serve in apposition.

My much loved teacher, a fine snooker player in her own right, has won numerous state-level tournaments. [Noun phrase as appositive]

The best exercise, walking briskly, is as well the least expensive. [Gerund phrase as appositive]

Mr. Obi’s aim in life, to become an occupational therapist, is within her grab this year, at last. [Infinitive phrase as appositive]

Absolute Pharse

Normally but not always an absolute phrase as well known as a nominative absolute is a group of words made up of a noun or pronoun and a participle in addition to any connected modifiers. Absolute phrases do not directly link to or modify any definite word in the rest of the sentence; rather, they modify the whole sentence, adding information. They are at all times taken care of as parenthetical elements and are set off from the remainder of the sentence with a comma or a pair of commas (occasionally by a dash or pair of dashes). Observe that absolute phrases are made up of a subject (which is frequently modified by a participle), but not a true finite verb as shown in the examples below:

Their reputation as winners secured by victory, the Nigerian Eagles moved into the semifinals.

The first quarter of the year almost finished, Dave and Obiageli emerged as true leaders.

When the participle of an absolute phrase is a type of to be, like as being or having been, the participle is frequently left out but implied.

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For example

The season [being] over, they were mobbed by fans in the village Square.

[Having been] Stars all their childhood lives, they appeared used to the attention.

Infinitive Pharse

An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive — the root of the verb heralded by to — and any modifiers or complements associated with it. Infinitive phrases can act as adjectives, adverbs, and nouns.

An infinitive phrase will start with an infinitive [to + simple form of the verb]. It will frequently include objects and/or modifiers that complete the thought. The pattern appears as shown below:

Infinitive + Object(s) and/or Modifier(s)

Below are a few examples:

To gulp spaghetti

To submit the document before the time limit

To swallow the glass of water with such thirst that gushes of liquid ran down his chin.

Infinitive phrases can functions as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. Look at these instances:

Abdul plans to take microbiology next semester when Professor Donald, an easy target, is teaching the course.

To take microbiology next semester functions as a noun due to the fact that it is the direct object for the verb plans.

The worst thing to occur during the severe hailstorm was a thunderstorm that destroyed that television.

To occur during the severe hailstorm acts as an adjective due to the fact that it modifies thing.

Gerund Phrase

Gerunds are verbals that end in -ing and that functions as nouns. They are constantly linked with modifiers and complements in a gerund phrase. These phrases acts as units and can function like a noun.

Observeother phrases, particularly prepositional phrases, are constantly part of the gerund phrase.

  1. Cramming for exams is not an excellent study approach. [gerund phrase as subject]
  2. Jude enjoyed running under the rain at dawn.

About the Author: RaMaDan

“The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

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