Types of Phrases

Types of Phrases

Let’s learn about the types of phrases. A group of words, which makes sense, but not complete sense, is called a phrase.

In the following sentences, the words in red colour are phrases.

  • The sun rises in the east.
  • Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
  • There came a giant in my car.
  • Show me how to do it.
  • T he tops of the mountains were covered with snow.
  • The sea being smooth, we went for a sail

The phrase has no subject or object. It makes some sense, but not complete sense. Hence it cannot stand alone. The function of a phrase depends upon its construction and position in a sentence. Depending upon its function in a sentence, phrases are divided into nine types. They are

1. Noun phrase

2. Verb phrase

3. Participial phrase

4. Adverb phrase

5. Gerund phrase

6. Infinitive phrase

7. Absolute phrase

8. Appositive phrase

9. Adjective phrase.

1. Noun phrase

A noun phrase is a phrase that does the grammatical function of a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It is also called nominal phrase. This phrase is the frequently occurring phrase. It can be one single word or more than one word. A noun phrase can function as subject, as a direct object, as the object of a preposition or as an indirect object.

Examples of a noun phrase:

  • A white house
  • A piece of black cloth
  • A walking stick

The yellow house is for sale. In this sentence the noun phrase,” The yellow house”, is used as subject.

A piece of black cloth covered her head. In this sentence also the noun phrase is the subject.

I bought a walking stick. In this sentence the noun phrase, a walking stick is direct object.

John climbed on a tree. In this sentence the noun phrase, a tree is the object of the preposition, on.

I gave the cute baby a kiss. In this sentence the noun phrase, the cute baby

is the indirect object.

2. Verb phrase

A verb phrase is a group of words of a sentence containing the main verb.

Examples of verb phrases:

  • Rose was walking quickly to the school.
  • My son is not trying very hard for his test.
  • We must go right now.
  • This diamond ring may be worth thousands of dollars

In the above sentences the words written in bold letters are verb phrases.

3. Participial phrase

A Participial phrase is a group of words essentially containing a participle (present or past) and any complements and modifiers of the participle.

Examples of participial phrases, consisting of present participles:

  • Sitting on the mango tree, the birds ate ripe mangoes.
  • The sobbing boy showed his bleeding nose.
  • Searching the shelf, Rose looked for her handbag.

In the above sentences the words written in bold letters are participial phrases. Sitting, sobbing, and searching are present participles.

Examples of participial phrases, containing past participles:

  • The fallen trees should be removed from the road.
  • The newly wedded couple went for honeymoon.
  • The broken flower vase was thrown away.

In the above sentences the words written in bold letters are participial phrases. Fallen, wedded, and broken are past participles.

4. Adverb phrase

An Adverb phrase is a group of words which modifies the meaning of a verb, an adjective, adverbials, adverbs or the sentence as a whole. In other words an adverb phrase does almost the same work that an adverb does, except that an adverb is single word whereas an adverb phrase is a group of words.

Examples of adverb phrases:

  • Very slowly
  • Very quickly
  • As soon as possible
  • Very well
  • Just a bit

Given below are some examples of adverb phrases being used in sentences.

Mary rode her bike very quickly so that she could reach her home sooner.

T he students in my class worked as a single unit for the exhibition.

In the mean time, we began to pack our suitcase.

The match had to be cancelled because of heavy rain.

At breakfast, we ate toast and omelette.

In the above sentences the words written in bold letters are adverb phrases.

5. Gerund phrase

A gerund is a verbal noun, made from a verb adding’ ing’. (Present participle).In other words when a present participle is used as a noun, it is called as a gerund.

E.g. Swimming is a good exercise. In the sentence, the word’ swimming’ is a gerund. It acts as a noun, being the subject of the sentence.

A Gerund phrase is a phrase essentially consisting of a gerund and any other words associated with it. In a sentence, a whole gerund phrase acts as a noun. It can be subject of a sentence or object. There are four rules with which we can identify a gerund phrase.

  • A gerund phrase always starts with a gerund.
  • The phrase will have a modifier, an object or both.
  • The whole phrase will act as a noun.
  • The phrase, acts as a singular number.

Examples of gerund phrases:

  • Playing with a ball is the favourite game of my little son.

In the above sentence, Playing with a ball is gerund phrase and here it is acting as subject.

  • My little son likes Playing with a ball.

In the above sentence, Playing with a ball is gerund phrase and here it is acting as object

  • My little son has made Playing with a ball as his favourite game.

In the above sentence, Playing with a ball is gerund phrase and here it is acting as indirect object

6. Infinitive phrase

An infinitive is the basic form of the verb. It is a verb with ‘to’ in front of it. ‘To’ is part of the infinite verb. Then’ to’ is not to be considered as a preposition. Infinitive can be used as subject of a sentence, to express purpose or it can follow an indirect object. It can follow certain other verbs too.*

* Infinitive and its usages will be explained in detail in another article of same name.

Coming to infinitive phrases, “An infinitive phrase is a group of words in a sentence, which starts with an infinitive.” An infinitive phrase can function as

Nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

Examples of infinitive phrases:

Acting as noun: (Remember, subject and object in a sentence are usually a noun or pronoun). When an infinitive phrase becomes the subject or object of a sentence, the phrase is in fact acting as a noun.).In the examples given below, the words given in bold letters are infinitive phrases. The functions they do are given in brackets.

  • To become a doctor is the sole ambition of my life.(Subject)
  • To walk one mile in the morning is the only exercise I take.(Subject)
  • I like to walk one mile in the morning.(Object)
  • Tony wanted to go to the library in the evening. (Object)

Acting as adjective 🙁 An adjective modifies a noun. Similarly an infinitive phrase also acts modifiers of nouns.)

  • This is the shortest route to go to my uncle’s house. (Modifies the noun, route.)
  • John has no reason to mistrust you. (Modifies the noun, reason).

Acting as adverbs: Sometimes an infinitive phrase acts as an adverb and modifies the verb in the sentence. We know that a simple adverb answers questions like when, where why, for what reason etc.So when acting like an adverb, an adverbial phrase also will answer the same questions.

  • To embroider my frock, I require silk thread. (Tells why I require).
  • David bought sweets to distribute among children.  (tells why David bought sweets)
  • To please his wife, he bought an expensive dress. (tells why he bought dress)


7. Absolute phrase

A phrase that modifies a noun in the sentence, but is independent of the rest of the sentence, is called an absolute phrase. It is set off from the remaining part of the sentence. with a comma. An absolute phrase can easily be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. An absolute phrase can easily be made to a sub ordinate clause. An Absolute phrase often contains a participle, but it does not have to.

Examples of absolute phrases:

  • Weather permitting; there will be a garden party at my house tomorrow.
  • Spring advancing, the swallows appear.
  • Hearing a noise, I turned around.
  • The sea being smooth, I went for a sail.
  • God willing, we shall meet again.

8. Appositive phrase

Apposition means placing near. When one noun follows another to describe it, the two nouns will be placed near to each other .The noun which follows is said to be in apposition to the noun which comes before it.

An appositive phrase is a group of words consisting of an appositive and its modifiers. In a sentence an appositive phrase may be essential or nonessential. In the essential case it gives useful information in identifying the noun or pronoun preceding it. In such case without it, the meaning of the sentence may not be clear and the sentence may not make sense. But nonessential type of appositive phrase gives some additional information only.

Examples of appositive phrases:

An appositive phrase can come at the beginning, middle or end of the sentence. But it should be right next to the noun it describes.

  • Jack, our captain, made fifty runs.
  • Kabir, the great reformer, was a weaver.

While writing appositive phrase, we should be careful when providing commas.

1. If the appositive phrase provides essential information to a sentence, then it is not necessary to put a comma. For example,

American president Abraham Lincon was assassinated.

If we write, American president was assassinated.’ we would not know who the president was.

Since “Abraham Lincon” is necessary information, we do not need commas.

2. If an appositive phrase is not essential in a sentence, then you do need commas. Often the appositive phrase is inside two commas, like this:

Abraham Lincoln, the American president, was assassinated.

9. Adjective phrase

An Adjective phrase is a group of words headed by an adjective that modifies a noun or pronoun in a sentence.

Examples of adjective phrases:

  • This was an act of cowardice.(Modifies the noun, ‘act’)
  • Brutus is a man of honor. (Modifies the noun, ‘man’)
  • He is in good health. (Modifies the pronoun ‘He’)
  • He occupies a position of great importance. (Modifies the noun, position’)
  • Nelson was a boy without fear. (Modifies the noun, ‘boy’)

The work sheets on the above topics will be posted later.

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