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A phrase is a group of words functioning as a syntactical unit. It’s a broad term, comprising groups of words of many different types and functions. Phrases function as all parts of speech, as both subjects and predicates, as clauses, as idioms, and as figures of speech. This is by no means a complete list of the functions of phrases, though, as virtually any small group of words can be called a phrase.
Types of phrases in English grammar
A. English Noun Phrases
A noun phrase is a word or group of words in a sentence that acts like a noun.
For example, you could say “I met Joan.”
In this sentence the word Joan is a noun. You could replace Joan with a group of words (a phrase) and say, “I met your sister.”
Your sister is a phrase (a group of words without a finite verb), and it functions as a noun in the sentence. So we call it a noun phrase.
Additional noun phrases examples (the noun phrase is bold):
All the kids were sleeping.
The boy in the blue jeans says he’ll do it.
He bought her a beautiful red dress.
Mom baked tasty chocolate cookies.
Julia was thinking about her friends back home.
B. English Verb Phrases
A verb phrase is a combination of a main verb and one or more auxiliary verbs (also known as helping verbs). This group of words acts like a verb.
For example, you could say “I waited for you.”
In this sentence the word waited is a verb. You could replace waited with a group of words (a phrase) and say, “I have been waiting for you.”
Have been waiting is a verb phrase, and it functions as a single verb in the sentence. So we call it a verb phrase. It can also be called a compound verb.
Note that the verbs in the verb phrase can be separated. In other words, they don’t have to follow each other!
For example, both “We will return!” and “Will we return?” contain verb phrases (in bold).
Note: Don’t confuse verb phrases with phrasal verbs!
Additional examples of verb phrases
(the verb phrase is bold):
They are waiting for the rain to stop.
Why is she staying at home?
Jack is not taking any breaks.
Shanon will meet us there.
Will you help us?
C. English Adjective Phrases
An adjective phrase is a group of words in a sentence that acts like an adjective.
For example, you could say “Lisa is an experienced teacher.”
In this sentence the word experienced is an adjective. It describes Lisa. You could replace experienced with a group of words (a phrase) and say, “Lisa is a teacher with a lot of experience.”
With a lot of experience is a phrase (a group of words without a finite verb), and it functions as an adjective in the sentence. It describes Lisa. So we call it an adjective phrase.
Additional adjective phrase examples (the adjective phrase is bold):
My grandfather is a man of great wisdom.
Tom is a man with good instincts.
She brought a cake made of nuts and fruit.
His friends are sailors living in the sea.
The man by the car is my father.
D. English Adverb Phrases
An adverb phrase is a group of words in a sentence that acts like an adverb.
For example, you could say “I live there.”
In this sentence the word there is an adverb. It tells us where. You could replace there with a group of words (a phrase) and say,“I live in the house on the other side of the street.”
On the other side of the street is a phrase (a group of words without a finite verb), and it functions as an adverb in the sentence. It tells us where. So we call it an adverb phrase.
Additional adverb phrase examples (the adjective phrase is bold):
She was born on the very same day.
George fell asleep holding his book.
Every now and then they meet and chat.
For now, I would like to ask you to leave.
Without a doubt, they will win the game.
E. English Prepositional Phrases
Take a look at the following sentence: “They live in the big house.”
The underlined part starts with a preposition (in) and ends with the object of the preposition (the big house). It gives us more information about wherethey live. Therefore it is a prepositional phrase.
Additional prepositional phrase examples (the prepositional phrase is bold):
They sat in the old green car.
The men are working for the money.
Every morning we take a walk in the park.
Don’t shout at me.
Put the vase by the window.
F. English Appositives
An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that follows another noun or pronoun and explains it.
Sarah, Mrs. Jones, a very thin man.
Example sentences (the appositive is bold):
My best friend, Sarah, is moving in with me.
Her first teacher, Mrs. Jones, was a strict person.
The CEO, a very smart man, decided to sell the company.
Note that you could also say (the appositive is bold):
Sarah, my best friend, is moving in with me.
Mrs. Jones, her first teacher, was a strict person.
A very smart man, the CEO, decided to sell the company.
Additional appositive examples (the appositive is bold):
During the contest, Diana, the best one, tripped and fell.
My friends, the noisiest gang you can think of, showed up at my door.
New York, one of the biggest cities on Earth, is located on the East coast.
Lisa, my five-year-old daugther, is eating dinner in the kitchen.
Pitsi, your little cat, is not so little any more.
The appositive (also called appositive phrase, if longer than a single word) has several punctuation rules.