Phrases and Types of Phrases

In this section you will learn what phrases are and the different types of phrases.

What are phrases in English grammar?

Phrases in English grammar are a group of two or more words that do not contain both a subject and a verb. Also, they do not stand alone unlike clauses (they do contain a subject and a verb).

On the desk – prepositional phrase

The phrase lacks of meaning therefore it needs to be part of a clause so that it makes sense:

She forgot her keys on the desk.

How many types of phrases are there in English?

There are 10 types of phrases: noun phrases, verb phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases, prepositional phrases, gerund phrases, infinitive phrases, appositive phrases, participle phrases and absolute phrases.

Noun phrases

Noun phrases are centered around a noun and its modifiers. They can function as the subject, object or complement of a sentence. The modifiers used in noun phrases are: adjectives, articles, determiners, infinitives, participles, possessive nouns, possessive pronouns, prepositional phrases, relative clauses.

The student’s backpack is purple.
Her mom is kind.
There are three squirrels on the tree.

Verb phrases

Verb phrases consist of a main verb, auxiliary verbs or modal verbs.

I have invested all of my savings on this company.
We are having dinner.
They broke the window.

Adjective phrases

You will see adjective phrases centered around an adjective and its modifiers that modify a noun or pronoun in a sentence.

Your daughter is a highly skilled pianist.
The hotel has a beautiful garden.
That gorgeous castle is a tourist attraction.

Adverb phrases

You will see adverb phrases centered around an adverb that modify a verb, an adjective, an adverb or a clause; also, they can talk about time, location, manner and reason.

You read quite well for your age.
I slept peacefully.
They left before us to arrive on time.

Prepositional phrases

You will see prepositional phrases centered around a preposition, its object (a noun, a pronoun or a noun phrase) and sometimes modifiers. There are two types of prepositional phrases: adjective prepositional phrases and adverb prepositional phrases.

The man stood by the window. (Adverb prepositional phrase)
The girl with a ribbon is my classmate. (Adjective prepositional phrase)
I have a job at a company with an excellent work environment. (Adjective prepositional phrase)

Gerund phrases

You will see gerund phrases centered around a gerund, its object and modifiers. They function as a noun in a sentence.

Andrew enjoys reading comics in his free time.
Exercising three times a week is good for your health.
My passion is cooking.

Infinitive phrases

Infinitive phrases are centered around an infinitive (to + verb), its object and modifiers. They functions as a noun, as an adjective or as an adverb in a sentence.

My goal is to become a doctor.
I gave her a notebook to write.
The students ran fast to catch the school bus.

Appositive phrases

Appositive phrases are noun phrases that provide additional information about the noun or pronoun they modify and they are usually set off by comas, but if they appear at the end of the sentence, they just need a comma before the sentence.

My brother, a professional athlete, has many fans.
Oliver, a responsible student, has won a scholarship.
The class was given by Dr Nava, an expert in the ELT field.

Participle phrases

Participle phrases include a participle and its modifiers that function as an adjective in a sentence. We can form them with present participles or past participles.

If they appear at the beginning of the sentence, a comma must come after it.

Covered in paint, the couple admired their house.
Sitting at her desk, Vivian read a poem.

If they appear in the middle of the sentence, they must be between two commas.

The guests, dancing like professionals, were interrupted by an announcement. (The meaning of the whole sentence will be the same even without the phrase. But, when the phrase is necessary, we will not need commas)

If they appear at the end of the sentence, we do not need a comma.

The park was a peaceful place surrounded by nature.

Absolute phrases

Absolute phrases provides extra information about a sentence. They consist of a noun or a pronoun, a participle (present participle or past participle) and modifiers. Also, they usually appear at the beginning and at the end of the sentence (in the middle too, but less frequently) and they are commonly apart by commas.

The dog suddenly barked, causing everyone to jump.
The meeting finished, the employees went home.

Read more about English grammar here.