What is a phrase in English Grammar? How important is it to master phrases in English? How many types of phrases in English grammar do we have? Well, in just a couple of minutes, we will master what a phrase is in English.
What is a phrase in English Grammar?
A phrase in English is a group of words that does not have a subject-verb combination. And since it does not have the subject-verb combination, it does not stand on its own and give a complete meaning. It is just a part of a sentence or a clause.
The important thing to understand about a phrase is that it does not have both: a subject and a verb. It may have any one of these two but can’t have both. If a group of words has both the subject and the verb, it jumps into the category of a clause.
Features of a phrase:
- It is a group of words.
- It does not have a subject-verb combination.
- It does not give a complete meaning.
Well, we use phrases a lot in our daily lives. A lot. Most of the communication we do in our daily lives take place in phrases.
Look at the following conversation, and you will find out how we communicate in phrases:
Akshay: Hey, Ashish! Where are you right now?
Ashish: In my room. What happened?
Akshay: Nothing much. It’s my birthday today. Wanna come?
Ashish: Happy birthday brother. I’d love to come but there is someone at my house right now, and I can’t leave him alone.
Ashish: My elder brother. Can I bring him with me as well?
Akshay: Sure. No problem. Bring him as well.
Ashish: And the place?
Akshay: At my guest house. Come as soon as possible.
Ashish: Just coming. On the way.
Akshay: Waiting for you. Come fast.
Going forward, you will know what types of phrases these are. Don’t draw any conclusions at the moment; let’s see how many types of phrases in English we have, and how they work.
Types of phrases in English grammar?
A phrase can play different roles in a sentence based upon the selection of words. It can function as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and an adverb. And the interesting thing is that we use them all the time. Yes, all the time! Let’s see how many types of phrases in English we have, and how they function.
- Noun phrase
- Verb phrase
- Adjective phrase
- Adverb phrase
- Prepositional phrase
- Gerund phrase
- Infinitive phrase
- Appositive phrase
- Participle phrase
- Absolute phrase
NOTE: Gerund phrases, infinitive phrases, and appositive phrases are types of noun phrases only.
What is a noun phrase? Is a noun phrase any different from a noun? How do we form a noun phrase? Do we have different types of noun phrases in English? Well, I too had these questions as a student in school, like many of you. Time to find the answers to these questions.
A phrase that functions as a noun in a sentence is called a noun phrase. A noun phrase comprises of a noun and a word or words that modify it: modifiers.
What is a noun? A name, right? Well, a noun phrase also gives us a name. The only difference is that it uses a couple of words to name something or somebody. Just like a noun, a noun phrase also functions as the following:
- The subject of a sentence
- An object of the action verb
- An object of a preposition
- A subject complement
- An object complement
Noun phrase as the subject of a sentence
- Some people deserve more than what they get.
- The strength of a nation is its people.
- The garden of her house is beautiful.
Noun phrase as the object of a verb
- She bought an expensive car last month.
- The company needs some great minds in the marketing team.
- I gifted my friend a black shirt.
The last sentence has two noun phrases in it: my friend (indirect object) and a black shirt (direct object).
Noun phrase as the object of a preposition
- I am a big fan of your work. (object of the preposition OF)
- We should do a study on his extraordinary brain. (object of the preposition ON)
- It’s almost impossible to pass through this small hole. (object of the preposition THROUGH)
Noun phrase as the subject complement
- You are the love of my life. (renaming the subject YOU)
- The book you gifted was a great book. (renaming the subject BOOK)
Subject complement: a word or a group of words that either renames a subject or modifies/describes it.
Noun phrase as the object complement
- I am making you the head chef.
- We are the people who elected this stupid guy our chief minister.
How to form a noun phrase?
Noun phrases in English can be formed in three ways:
- Both pre and post-modifiers
1. Noun phrases using pre-modifiers
We have three things in pre-modifiers:
Determiners are words that determine the quantity of a noun. These include the following: Articles, possessive adjectives, demonstrative adjectives, distributive adjectives, and quantifiers.
- Articles – a, an, the
Noun phrases – a book, an apple, the Taj Mahal
- Possessive adjective – my, your, his, her, their, our
Noun phrases – my car, your sister, his mother
- Demonstrative adjectives – this, that, these, those
Noun phrases – this guy, that car, these people, those girls
- Distributive adjectives – each, every, either, neither, any, both, etc.
Noun phrases – each person, every dream, any plans, both pictures
- Quantifiers – some, many, a few, the few, a lot of, several, etc.
Noun phrases – a lot of people, some friends, several leaders
one, two, three, first, second, third…
Note: Numbers are considered a part of quantifiers only. But we keep them separate as they refer to specific quantities.
NOTE: Numbers are considered a part of quantifiers only. But we keep them separate as they refer to specific quantities.
two girls, three dogs, the first match, my second love
small, big, intelligent, round, lazy, old, etc.
Noun phrases – a big room, an intelligent person, an old man
Points to remember:
A) We can’t use two or more types of determiners in a noun phrase.
A this man My this car
But we do use the following structure: quantifiers + OF + possessive adjective + noun
- Some of my friends
- None of your projects
- One of his students
B) Use two or more pre-modifiers in the following structure:
Determiners + Numbers + Adjectives + Noun
- These many dark chocolates
- Those 5 smart boys
- My two younger brothers
2. Noun phrases using post-modifiers
There are 4 things that come in post-modifiers:
- Prepositional phrases
- Present participle phrases
- Infinitive phrases
- Relative clauses
A) Prepositional phrases
- A girl with no tantrums
- The person in the black shirt
- Some people under your leadership
- I have never seen a girl with no tantrums.
- The person in the black shirt is neighbor.
- Some people under your leadership are doing great.
B) Present participle phrase
- The man standing next to you
- The girl talking to him
- The students protesting outside the college
- The man standing next to you is my friend.
- The girl talking to him is a dancer.
- Jon is talking to the students protesting outside the college.
C) Infinitive phrase
- Students to teach English
- A suit to wear at the wedding
- Work to finish this week
- I have students to teach English.
- Jon is looking for a suit to wear at the wedding.
- There is a lot of work to finish this week.
D) Relative clause
- The man who gave me some money
- The book that you gifted me last week
- A laptop that does not catch any virus
- The man who gave me some money was different.
- The book that you gifted me last week is amazing.
- There is no laptop that does not catch any virus.
3. Noun phrases using pre and post-modifiers
- The black dog that you have is scary.
That you have (relative clause)
- Some young and energetic people from this city who are willing to put in extra hours are needed for this job.
young and energetic (compound adjective)
from this city (prepositional phrase)
that are willing to put in extra hours (relative clause)
Types of noun phrases in English
1. GERUND PHRASE
Do you know what is a gerund in English? What is a gerund phrase in English grammar? You may or may not, but I bet you use them all the time; you might not be aware of how a gerund or a gerund phrase works.
A phrase that starts with a gerund and works as a noun is called a gerund phrase. A gerund is a word that is formed by adding ‘ing’ at the end of an action verb. Ex- playing, smoking, laughing, running, smoking, teaching, etc.
A gerund phrase can play the following roles in a sentence:
- The subject of a sentence
- An object of a sentence
- An object of a preposition
- A subject complement
- Dancing in the rain makes me happy.
Gerund phrase – dancing in the rain
Role– the subject of the sentence
Asking WHAT to the verb gets us our gerund phrase.
- He loves going to new places.
Gerund phrase – going to new places
Role – the object of the verb LOVES, asking WHAT to the verb LOVES gets us our gerund phrase. He loves WHAT? He loves ‘going to new places.’
- Teaching unprivileged children is a generous act.
Gerund phrase – Teaching unprivileged children
Role – the subject of the sentence
- Most people hate waking up early in the morning.
Gerund phrase – waking up early in the morning
Role – the object of the verb HATE
- Her favorite time pass is playing with kids.
Gerund phrase – playing with kids
Role – subject complement
Her favorite time pass = playing with kids
- My hobby is making English lessons.
Gerund phrase-making English lessons
Role – subject complement
My hobby = making English lessons
- Most people are scared of speaking in front of a crowd.
Gerund phrase – speaking in front of a crowd
Role – the object of the preposition OF
- I can’t think about killing a human being.
Gerund phrase – killing a human being
Role – the object of the preposition ABOUT
Subject complement: it is a word or a group of words that renames or describes the subject of a sentence.
How to form a gerund phrase?
A gerund phrase in English has the following components in it:
- A gerund
- An object of the gerund
- A modifier or a modifying phrase
- Teaching unprivileged children is a generous act.
In the above sentence, “Teaching” is the gerund, and “unprivileged children” is the object of the gerund TEACHING.
- Dancing in the rain makes me happy.
In this sentence, “Dancing” is the gerund, and “in the rain” is the modifying phrase that modifying the gerund (action) DANCING.
2. INFINITIVE PHRASE
An infinitive phrase is a group of words that starts with an infinitive (TO + V1) and is followed by the object of the infinitive or its modifier. It generally functions as a noun in a sentence but can also act as an adjective and an adverb.
Infinitives (TO + V1): to eat, to run, to love, to help, to sleep, etc.,
- To eat food (to eat = infinitive, food = an object of the infinitive)
- To run daily (to run = infinitive, daily = modifier)
- To love your country (to love = infinitive, your country = an object)
- To sleep in the day (To sleep = infinitive, in the day = modifier)
Infinitive phrases as a noun
When an infinitive phrase works as a noun, it can act as the following:
- The subject of a sentence
- The object of the main verb (action verb)
- A Subject complement
- To meet M.S Dhoni was an incredible experience.
Infinitive phrase (subject)– to meet M.S Dhoni
- To believe in your craft is essential for success.
Infinitive phrase (subject) – to believe in your craft
- You need to learn from your debacles.
Infinitive phrase – to learn from your debacles
Role – The object of the verb NEED
- She likes to dance in the rain.
Infinitive phrase – to dance in the rain
Role – The object of the verb LIKES
- One of my talents is to mimic people.
Infinitive phrase (subject complement) – to mimic people
One of my talents = to mimic people
- My dream is to be a doctor.
Infinitive phrase (subject complement) – to be a doctor
My dream = to be a doctor
Infinitive phrases as an adjective
- The guy to learn SEO from is Mangesh Kumar Bhardwaj.
(“To learn SEO from” is the infinitive phrase that’s working as an adjective and modifying the noun GUY.)
- We need some people to work on our social media platforms.
(“To work on our social media platforms” is the infinitive phrase, giving information about the noun PEOPLE.)
- I wish I had someone to stand by me.
(“To stand by me” is the infinitive phrase that describes the pronoun SOMEONE.)
- Do you need something to eat on the train?
(“To eat on the train” modifies the pronoun SOMETHING.)
Infinitive phrases as an adverb
Just like an adverb, an infinitive phrase also modifies a verb and tells us for what reason or purpose an action happens.
- He is working day and night to launch an application.
(“To launch an application” modifies the verb WORKING and tells us WHY he is working day and night.)
- Most people do things to impress others.
(“To impress others” modifies the verb DO and tells us WHY most people do things.)
A sentence can also start with an infinitive phrase working as an adverb.
- To make my birthday special, my friends gave me a surprise party.
The reason they give me a surprise party was “to make my birthday special.”
3. Appositive phrase
An appositive phrase is a noun phrase that sits next to a noun and describes or identifies it with a new name. In other words, an appositive or appositive phrase is bonus information. It can be essential, important for the meaning of the sentence, or non-essential,
extra information that does not alter the meaning of a sentence.
An appositive phrase can be of two types:
1. Essential or restrictive appositive phrases
2. Non-essential or non-restrictive appositive phrases
Appositive phrases and commas
Non-essential appositive phrases are offset using commas before and after them. If a sentence ends with an appositive phrase, we just need one comma before it.
On the contrary, essential appositive phrases are not offset using commas as they are important to the meaning of a sentence.
Examples of Non-essential appositive phrases
- The Amazing Spider-Man, my favorite movie, is free on Netflix.
(“My favorite movie” is the appositive phrase that’s sitting next to the noun “The Amazing Spider-Man” and renaming it with extra information. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a specific name of a movie and does not need any description. The core sentence is “The Amazing Spider-Man is free on Netflix.”)
- Mangesh kumar Bhardwaj, a popular blogger, is my best friend.
(“A popular blogger” is the appositive phrase that’s remaining the noun Mangesh Kumar Bhardwaj.)
- We are going to visit the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world.
(The meaning of the sentence is already clear without using the appositive phrase “one of the seven wonders of the world” as “The Taj Mahal” is a proper name and does not need modification to be identified.)
Examples of Essential appositive phrases
- My first book “The power of self-doubting” changed many lives.
(“The power of self-doubting” identifies and makes the meaning of the noun “My first book” specific. It helps us to identify what book it is.)
- My friend Mangesh Kumar Bhardwaj has been working on a life-changing book for new bloggers.
(“Mangesh Kumar Bhardwaj” is identifying the noun “my friend” with a specific name.)
How difficult could it be to guess the meaning of a verb phrase? Well, everything is on the plate. It looks like a phrase that works as a verb in a sentence. That’s exactly what a verb phrase is.
A verb phrase is a combination of an auxiliary verb, also known as a helping verb, and a main verb.
- I have written this post for you.
- My mom is cooking my favorite dish while I am writing this post.
- Everyone should meditate daily for a peaceful mind.
- He has broken up with Nikky.
- She might love me again.
A verb phrase, sometimes, has three verbs in it: an action verb and two auxiliary verbs.
- I have been waiting for a long time.
- We could have won the match.
- I have been teaching English for 5 years.
- I am not eating anything right now.
Verb phrase: am eating
- Has she cooked my favorite dish?
Verb phrase: has cooked
To put emphasis on the action, we use the auxiliaries DO, DOES, and DID.
- She smokes.
- She does smoke. (To emphasize the fact she smokes when nobody believes she does)
- I keep a gun for my safety.
- I do keep a gun for my safety. (To put more stress on the fact that I keep a gun)
- Your girlfriend called me last night.
- She did call me last night. (To put more stress on the event and make people believe it)
What is an adjective? How is it any different from adjective phrases in English? How many types of adjective phrases we have in English? An adjective is just a word that modifies a noun or a pronoun. An adjective phrase in English, on the other hand, is a group of words that does the same thing. So, they are like two brothers where one is taller and the other is shorter. With this idea, let’s master everything about adjective phrases in English.
An adjective phrase is a group of words that modifies a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It can be placed before or after the word (noun or pronoun) it modifies or describes.
- The man wearing the black coat will give the presentation.
(“Wearing the black coat” is the adjective phrase that’s modifying the noun MAN and telling us which man the speaker is talking about. Out of all the men present there, the speaker is referring to the one who’s wearing the black coat.)
- I bought a highly expensive car.
(“Highly expensive” is modifying the noun CAR)
- The girl with long hair is my sister.
( “With long hair” is a prepositional phrase that’s working as an adjective and modifying the noun ‘girl’. It’s helping us to identify the girl the speaker is talking about.)
- He offered me a very large pizza.
(“Very large” is the adjective phrase that’s modifying the noun PIZZA.)
- The kite placed in the corner is expensive.
( “Placed in the corner” is the past participle phrase, starting with the past participle PLACED but working as an adjective and modifying the noun KITE.)
- I like girls without makeup.
( “Without makeup is a prepositional phrase that’s identifying the noun GIRLS and limiting its meaning. Do I like all girls? No, only the girls without makeup. So, it’s working as an adjective.)
Types of adjective phrases in English
- Prepositional phrases
- Past participle phrases
- Participle phrases
What could a prepositional phrase be? Well, you could find that out just looking at its name. It’s worth giving a try, isn’t it? Let’s find it out now!
Phrases that start with a preposition are called prepositional phrases in English. That’s just how they look: start with a preposition and is followed by an object of the preposition. Prepositional phrases act as an adjective or an adverb in a sentence.
Preposition phrases as adjectives
When prepositional phrases function as an adjective, modifying a noun or a pronoun, they are called adjectival phrases as they function adjectivally. Let’s take some examples of prepositional phrases in English.
• They are writing a movie about his life.
(The prepositional phrase “about his life” modifies the noun MOVIE and helps us to understand what movie he is talking about writing. It is starting with the preposition ABOUT and followed by the object of the preposition HIS LIFE.)
• I’m marrying the girl of my dreams.
(Which girl am I marrying? The girl of my dreams. The prepositional phrase ‘of my dreams’ is helping us to identify the girl the speaker is talking about.)
• The ending of the movie wasn’t good.
(The ending of WHAT was not good? The prepositional phrase ‘of the movie’ modifies the noun ENDING and identifies it for us.)
• The guy in the red shirt is my neighbor.
(Which guy is my neighbor? The prepositional phrase ‘in the red shirt’ identifies the noun GUY. Not any guy present there is my neighbor, the guy in the red shirt is my neighbor.)
• The house across the street is believed to be haunted.
(Here, the prepositional phrase ‘across the street’ modifies the noun HOUSE.)
• Don’t open the letter inside the box; it’s personal.
(Which letter is personal? The letter ‘inside the box.’)
• Students from different countries are studying in this college.
(“From different countries” is the prepositional phrase that’s modifying the noun STUDENTS. Without it, the sentence gives a different meaning.)
- A prepositional phrase always comes after the noun it modifies.
- It always starts with a preposition.
Preposition phrases as adverbs
Prepositional phrases can work as both adjectives and adverbs. When prepositional phrases function adverbially, modifying a verb, they are called adverbial phrases.
- He lives across the street.
(“Across the street” is the prepositional phrase here, starting with the preposition ACROSS and modifying the verb LIVES. It is telling us where he lives. So, it’s working as an adverb in the sentence.)
- The dog is hiding under the table.
(“Under the table” is the prepositional phrase that’s modifying the verb HIDING and telling us about the place of the action.
- His father sends him money at the end of every month.
(When does his father send him the money? “At the end of every month” is the prepositional phrase that’s answering that question, answering WHEN.)
Participle phrases as adjectives
A participle phrase is a group of words consists of a present participle, an ‘ing’ form of a verb, or a past participle, the third form of a verb (V3). It functions as an adjective in a sentence. Don’t let the participle trick you; a participle looks like a verb but functions as an adjective.
We have two types of participle phrases in English:
1. Present participle phrase
2. Past participle phrase
- Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.
(“Played more than a million times on Youtube” is the adjective phrase, starting with the past participle “played” and describing the noun “my latest song.”)
- Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.
(The adjective phrase is describing the subject “Ashish” with two events. Using a participle phrase allows you to describe a noun with more details and a clear description.)
- Your friend died in a car accident came in my dream yesterday.
(The adjective phrase is describing the subject “your friend” and identifying it for us. Not any friend of yours came in my dream, the one who died in a car accident. Since the adjective phrase is essential to identify the pronoun, it is not offset using commas.)
- The little girl diagnosed with cancer has written a book about her life.
(The adjective phrase is modifying the noun “girl”, telling us which girl the speaker is talking about.)
- The girl dancing in the rain is the one I have a crush on.
(“Dancing in the rain” is the present participle phrase, modifying the noun GIRL and telling us which girl the speaker is referring to.)
- People living in Delhi are always complaining about the work the government does.
(“Living in Delhi” is the present participle phrase that’s identifying the meaning of the noun PEOPLE. Not all the people in the world are always complaining; people living in Delhi are. The participle phrase helps us know who these people are.)
A phrase that acts as an adverb in a sentence is called an adverb phrase. The function of an adverb phrase is similar to an adverb: it modifies the action verb in a sentence.
- I like working at night.
(“At night” is the prepositional phrase that’s working as an adverb, modifying the verb WORKING and telling us when the action happens: at night.)
- She kicked the ball very hard.
(“Very hard” is the adverb phrase that’s telling us HOW she kicked the ball: very hard.)
- Jon acted surprisingly well in his first movie.
(“Surprising well” is the adverb phrase that’s modifying the verb ACTED by telling us HOW he acted in his first movie.)
- She is crying at the corner of the room.
(“At the corner of the room” is the prepositional phrase that’s working as an adverb, modifying the verb CRYING, telling us WHERE is action is happening.)
- The teacher addressed the students with a smile.
(How did the teacher address the students? “With a smile” is the adverb phrase that’s answering this question. )
- Everyone left the ring on a stretcher.
(“On a stretcher” is the prepositional phrase that’s working as an adverb, modifying the verb ACTED by telling us IN WHAT MANNER the action happened.)
One more phrase? Now, what is an absolute phrase? Don’t start scratching your head thinking “what is an absolute phrase?” Well, it might sound complex, but it’s not. Not at all. Let’s master the last phrase on the list!
A phrase that contains a subject and a adjective(a regular adjective, a present participle or a past participle), and modifies an entire sentence is called an absolute phrase. It gives more details about the sentence it modifies. And since it modifies the sentence with extra information, it is offset using a comma or commas. If an absolute phrase comes in the beginning or at the end of a sentence, we use one comma to offset it, but when it comes in the middle of a sentence, we offset it using two commas: before and after it.
The important thing to note is that it does not have a finite verb in it – a verb that has its subject and shows tense (time).
How to form an absolute phrase?
- A noun or a noun phrase
- A present or past participle, or adjective (generally a participle)
- Objects and modifiers (optional)
- The wedding fixed, everyone is happy.
(“The wedding fixed” is the absolute phrase here that’s modifying the sentence: Everyone is happy. “The wedding” is the noun phrase, and “fixed” is the past participle. The entire phrase is adding details to the sentence in terms of WHAT impact it has on the main clause.).
- She is jumping in the air with joy, her brother coming from China.
(“Her brother coming from China” is the absolute phrase here that’s modifying the main clause of the sentence: she is jumping in the air with joy. “Her brother” is the noun phrase, “coming from China” is the modifying phrase, and “coming” is the present participle (V1+ ing). It doesn’t have a finite verb in it. You must have noticed that we have offset it using a comma before it as it provides extra, non-essential, informative about the main clause.)
NOTE: We can change an absolute phrase into a sentence by adding a finite verb to the sentence.
- She is jumping in the air with joy, her brother is coming from China.
See, it became a sentence after bringing the finite verb “is” into the sentence, but it gives us a comma splice. A comma splice is a term given to the incorrect use of a comma to add two independent clauses.
There are two ways to correct a comma splice:
1. Use a period or a semi-colon instead of a comma.
She is jumping in the air with joy. Her brother is coming from China.
She is jumping in the air with joy; her brother is coming from China.
2. Use a subordinating conjunction at the beginning of the absolute phrase that we have changed into a sentence (Independent clause).
She is jumping in the air with joy as her brother is coming from China.
She is jumping in the air with joy since/because her brother is coming from China.
- Our boss shouting in anger, all the team members started working fast.
(Absolute phrase – Our boss shouting in anger)
- Her mom being upset, she didn’t go to the party.
(Absolute phrase – Her mom being upset)
- My teacher, her students leaving one by one, is depressed these days.
(Absolute phrase – her students leaving one by one)
Position of an absolute phrase
An absolute phrase can come at the beginning of a sentence, in the middle of a sentence, and also at the end of the sentence. Generally, it comes in the beginning and at the end of a sentence.
Some important points about an absolute phrase:
- It starts with a noun or a noun phrase.
- It does not have a finite verb in it.
- It modifies the main clause (sentence) in a complex sentence.
- It is offset using a comma or two commas.
- It doesn’t change the original meaning of a sentence; it just provides extra information that makes the sentence more interesting and informative.
So that, learners, was the superclass on types of phrases in English. Thank you for attending the class! See you soon in some other class. Till then, keep learning! Stay healthy and safe!
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