Phrase

What is a Phrase?

A Phrase is a group of related words, containing neither a subjectOpens in new window nor a predicateOpens in new window. Typically, phrases do not express a complete sense.

Classification of Phrases

Phrases are basically categorized in two forms. One is according to their function and the other, according to their structure.

On the basis of function, phrases may be used as single parts of speech— “nouns,” “verbs,” “adjectives,” and “adverbs.”

However, on the basis of structure, phrases fall into the five sub-divisions— “prepositional,” “verb,” “participial,” “gerundial,” and “infinitive.”  Each is in turn briefly discussed below:

1.  Prepositional Phrases — A prepositional phraseOpens in new window is a group of words which begins with a prepositionOpens in new window and ends with a substantiveOpens in new window—called the object of the prepositionOpens in new window.

The phrase may also include words that modify the object, and in some cases, the object of a preposition may come in compound form.

Examples include:
  • The actor in the movie is being interviewed.
  • The debater with a foreign accent won the competition.
  • The wreckage was buried under mud and debris.

2.  Verb Phrases — A Verb phraseOpens in new window consists of a main verb and all of its helping verbsOpens in new window. Verb phrases are usually used as predicate verbs in the same way that single verbs are used.

Examples include:
  • We will be going to the movies tomorrow.
  • His lunch had been eaten by Gretchen.

Sometimes, a verb phrase may encounter a brief interruption by an adverbOpens in new window which modifies the verb phrase. Observe the following sentences:

  • The trains do not always run on time.
  • I have been seriously considering the job offer.

3.  Participial Phrases — A Participial phraseOpens in new window is made up of a participleOpens in new window and any related complements and modifiers. As with single participles, participial phrases are often used as adjectivesOpens in new window.

Similarities Between Participles and Participial Phrases

A participle is a verb formOpens in new window used as an adjective. Hence, participles and participial phrases share characteristics of both verbsOpens in new window and adjectivesOpens in new window.

As Verbs:

They can have complements such as directOpens in new window and indirect objectsOpens in new window.

They can be modified by single adverbs or phrases used as adverbs.

Examples include:
  • Giving her the book, the librarian locked the bookshelf.
    (Giving = participle | her = indirect object | book = direct object [participial phrase modifies librarian])
  • Responding immediately, Mr. Briggs answered the call.
    (Responding = participle | immediately = adverb [participial phrase modifies Mr. Briggs])
As Adjectives:

They can modify nouns or pronouns.

Example includes:
  • Turning to me, he whispered his plan.
    (Turning = participle | to me = adverbial phrase [participial phrase modifies “he”])

4.  Gerund Phrases — A Gerund phraseOpens in new window is made up of a gerundOpens in new window and any related complements and modifiers. As with single gerunds, gerundial phrases are typically used as nouns.

Similarities Between Gerunds and Gerundial Phrases

A gerund is a verb formOpens in new window used as a noun. Thus, gerunds and gerundial phrases share the characteristics of both verbs and nouns.

As Verbs:

They can have complements such as direct and indirect objects

They can be modified by adverbs or adverb phrases.

As Nouns:

They can be used as subjects, objects, predicate nominatives or appositives.

Examples include:
  • Reading your Bible before bedtime is a good habit.
    (Reading = gerund | Bible = direct object | before bedtime = adverb phrase. [gerundial phrase used as subject])
  • She loves drinking orange juice.
    (drinking = gerund | orange juice = direct object. [gerundial phrase used as direct object])
  • Effiong is fixing old cars.
    (fixing = gerund | old cars = direct obj. | [gerundial phrase used as predicate nominative])
  • She showed her loyalty by keeping the secret.
    (keeping = gerund | secret = direct obj. [Gerundial phrase used as object of a preposition])
  • Their policy, always making full disclosure, was beneficial to all.
    (always = adverb | making = gerund | disclosure = direct object. [gerundial phrase used as appositive])

5.  Infinitive Phrases — An Infinitive phraseOpens in new window is made up of an infinitiveOpens in new window and any related complements and modifiers. As with single infinitives, infinitive phrases can be used as nounsOpens in new window, adjectivesOpens in new window, and adverbsOpens in new window.

Similarities Between Infinitives and Infinitive Phrases

Infinitives are verb forms used as nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Thus, Infinitives and infinitive phrases both share characteristics of all these parts of speechOpens in new window.

As Verbs:

They can have complements such as direct and indirect objects

They can be modified by adverbs or adverb phrases.

As Nouns:

They can be used as subjects, objects, predicate nominatives or appositives.

Examples include:
  • Enthusiastically to give God your best is a good demeanor.
    (Enthusiastically = adverb | to give = infinitive | God = indirect object | best = direct object. [infinitive phrase used as subject])
  • I hate to say good–bye.
    (to say = infinitive| good–bye = direct object. [infinitive phrase used as direct object])
  • God’s purpose is to save us from sin.
    (to save = infinitive | us = direct obj | from sin = adverb phrase [infinitive phrase used as predicate nominative])
  • He was the only one to finish the race without help.
    (to finish = infinitive | race = direct object | without help = adverb phrase. [infinitive phrase used as adjective])
  • We go to cinemas to see movies.
    (to see = infinitive | movies = direct object. [infinitive phrase used as adverb])