What is a Phrase?

Definition: A phrase is a group of two or more words that stand together as one unit and express a single idea. A phrase does not have a verb or subject. It is a part of a sentence or clause, but does not form a complete sentence.

The following are some examples with phrases highlighted in bold:

  • He is laughing at a joker.

  • He reached school in time.

  • He rides his bike at the circus.

Types Of Phrases

As we have seen above, phrases are units that are used when forming larger sentences or clauses, however, they can play different roles, or behave differently. Depending on what role phrases play in a sentence, it is possible to classify them in to five types as shown below.

Five types of phrases

1. Noun Phrase:

A noun phrase is a group of words that acts like a noun in a sentence. In a noun phrase, in addition to the "head word" (aka the "key word"), modifiers such as "a", "an", "the" and "those" are also included. These modifiers can come before or after the noun. A noun phrase can act as a subject, object, and a complement in the sentence.

The following are some examples:

  • The old woman was waiting for the bus.

  • Those houses are very beautiful.

  • All the girls were singing.

2. Prepositional Phrase:

A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition, and finishes with a noun, pronoun, gerund or clause.

The following are some examples of prepositional phrases:

  • She always speaks in a good manner.

  • A woman on the bus was eating chocolate.

  • He is singing in a loud voice.

  • The cat jumped over the fence.

  • She is on the way.

3. Verb Phrase:

In a verb phrase the "head word" used is a verb. Therefore, a verb phrase is the part of a sentence or clause that acts like a verb. A verb phrase consists of a main verb and a helping verb. The main verb follows the helping verb in a verb phrase.

The following are some examples of verb phrases:

  • She is going with her friend.

  • You can come to my house today.

  • You must reach in time for the test.

  • He is reading a story.

4. Adjective Phrase:

An adjective phrase is a group of words that modify a noun or pronoun, in a sentence. An adjective phrase can be an attributive or a predicative adjective. The "head word" in an adjective phrase will be an adjective.

The following are some examples of adjective phrases:

  • The girl in the pink dress is my friend.

  • He bought a beautiful black car.

  • A girl with brown hair is walking in the garden.

  • He gave me a box full of chocolate.

  • John is a well-behaved man.

5. Adverb Phrase:

A phrase that acts like an adverb is called adverb phrase. It can modify a verb, an adjective or an adverb.

The following are some examples of adverb phrases:

  • He was running very fast.

  • She always speaks in a loud voice.

  • He did it as fast as possible.

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