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What is a Phrase? Definition and Types of Phrases with Examples

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What is a phrase, and how can we differentiate it from a whole sentence? You know words can occur in a sentence individually or in groups. When we group words, they usually act as a single unit that can modify something or act as a subject, verb, object, or predicate nominative. The commonly used groups of related words are the phrase.

What is a Phrase? Definition and Examples 

Study the group of words “over there.” 

If we say these words to someone, they must ask what’s over there. It means this group of words makes sense but not complete sense. Such a group of words that make sense but are not completely understood is called a phrase. Phrases are also called sentence fragments. They are commonly used when people speak to one another, but they are considered mistakes in writing. Phrases can be converted into simple sentences by adding some more words. A phrase and a single word in a sentence have the same function.

For example, the phrase ‘over there’ can be converted into a simple sentence.
A boy is standing over there. 

Phrases Examples 

He reads. (word)
He is reading. (phrase)
A fast bike (word)
A very fast bike (phrase)
Ahmad is going. (word)
Ahmad’s father is going. (phrase) 
The girl is singing. (word)
The little girl is singing. (phrase) 

Examples of Phrases with Sentences

In the following sentences, each part written in bold is a phrase.
  • That red dress girl is my daughter.
  • He has completed work on his house.
  • The babies were playing with their little kitten.
  • To whom should I write this letter?
  • I didn’t ask them to help me.
  • He studies for his own good.
  • I felt alone in my house.
  • The teacher gives me a paper with no writing on it.
  • The advisor has responded at a recent date.
  • Working all day long makes Saleem’s father very tired.
  • Sleeping every day for some time is good for health.
  • Having seen the dog, the boy ran down the street.

The Eight Types of Phrases with Examples 

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases consist of prepositions and their objects.  
in the room
on the bottle
into the water
after the rain
for Ahmad and you

Some preposition consists of more than one word called complex preposition that works together like a single preposition. Such prepositions should not be confused with a prepositional phrase. Examples of complex prepositions are because of, by means of, on behalf of, etc.

Noun Phrases

A group of words (noun + determiner) that does the work of a noun in a sentence is known as a noun phrase.
He is studying. (Pronoun)
Ahmad is studying. (Noun)
That older man is studying. (Noun Phrase)

Adjective Phrases

A group of words (adjective plus any determiners or modifiers) is called an adjective phrase.
OR A group of words that do an adjective’s work is known as an adjective phrase.

Now read the following sentence and note how an adjective and adjective phrase are different from each other.
  • He bought a big book. (Adjective)
  • He bought a very big book. (Adjective phrase)
  • He was a kind man. (Adjective)
  • He was a man with a kindly nature. (Adjective Phrase)
  • He is an irritating man. (Adjective)
  • He is an extremely irritating man. (Adjective Phrase)

Adverb Phrases

A group of words that do an adverb’s work is called an adverb phrase.

Read the following pairs of sentences.
  • He drives carefully. (Adverb)
  • He drives very carefully. (Adverb phrase)
  • He ran quickly. (Adverb)
  • He ran with great speed. (Adverb phrase)
In each of the first sentences, a single adverb modifies the verb, and in each of the second sentences, a group of words modifies the verbs. 

For example, the adverb carefully modifies the word drives, a verb in the first sentence. In the second sentence, the group of words very carefully does the same thing as a single adverb called an adverb phrase.

Verb Phrase

A verb phrase is a group of words (two or more) that does the work of a single verb is called a verb phrase. The verb is the headword followed by all its modifiers.

Examples of Verb Phrase

  • He waits for me. (Verb)
  • We were waiting for them for many hours. (Verb Phrase)
  • I slept well last night. (Verb)
  • He has been sleeping since noon. (Verb Phrase)
  • She always smells the rice. (Verb)
  • She might have smelled the rice. (Verb Phrase)
  • I reach the school on time every day. (Verb)
  • They might have been reached the airport. (Verb Phrase)

Gerund Phrase

A phrase formed by adding any complement or modifier to a gerund (verbal noun) that functions as a noun is called a gerund phrase. 

Examples of Gerund Phrase

  • Playing game is good for health. (Gerund)
  • Playing the game in the dark isn’t possible. (Gerund Phrase)
  • I love writing. (Gerund)
  • I love writing in the English language. (Gerund Phrase)
  • Watching movie (Gerund)
  • Watching a movie every time makes you ill. (Gerund Phrase)

Infinitive Phrases

A phrase consisting of an infinitive (to + base form of the verb) with any complement or modifiers is known as an infinitive phrase.

Examples of Infinitive Phrase

  • To go (Infinitive)
  • I don’t like to go with him. (Infinitive phrase)
  • to send ((Infinitive)
  • I want to send him a letter. (Infinitive phrase)
  • To solve (Infinitive)
  • You must be able to solve this problem. (Infinitive phrase)
  • To stop (Infinitive)
  • We need to stop for some time. (Infinitive phrase)

Participle Phrases

A participle phrase is created when any modifier or object is added to a participle (present or past participle). Participle phrase works only as adjectives in a sentence. Participle phrases are actually adjective phrases that begin with a past or present participle.

Examples of Participle Phrases

  • Climbing (Present Participle)
  • See that older man climbing the mountain. (Participle Phrase)
  • Jumping (Present Participle)
  • The boy jumping in happiness got the first position in the test. (Participle Phrase)
  • Written (Past Participle)
  • Has she written in blank ink? (Participle Phrase)

How to Identify Phrase in a Sentence?

Every group of words next to each other in a sentence are not phrases. A group of words will be a phrase when its words belong to one single part (subject, verb or direct object, etc.) in a sentence. Words that belong to more than one slot in a sentence are not phrases.

The following group of words taken from the sentence in the brackets is not phrases.

The old lady laughed (The old lady laughed.) old lady and laughed belong to two parts in this sentence, i.e., subject + verb. Therefore, it is not a phrase.

bought her father (She bought her father some flowers.) 
In this example, every word belongs to a different part of the sentence, i.e., verb + indirect object. Therefore, it is not a phrase.

However, old lady and her father are phrases because they belong to a single part of their sentences.
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