Types of Phrases in the English Grammar

The most important element of English grammar is phrases and clauses. Phrases and clauses make up the entire sentence. In this article, we will show the different types of phrases in grammar.

What is a Phrase?

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In English grammar, we refer to a group of two or more words that function as a purposeful unit within a sentence or clause. A phrase is commonly referred to as a grammatical unit at the level of a word and a clause.

Generally, a phrase consists of a head (or headword) — which determines the grammatical nature of its structure — and one or more optional modifiers. The phrases may include other phrases in them, like Russian dolls!

There are a lot of different types of phrases, some of which play a technical role in your writing, while others are more descriptive. In the end, a phrase achieves all three goals: making your sentences richer by giving your words context, detail, and clarity.

Though you write and speak in phrases every single day, understanding their mechanics can be challenging. 

Phrases and clauses are not the same. Clauses contain a subject, a predicate, and can, in most cases, be a sentence on their own.

Below we’ll take a look at the differences between phrases and clauses.

Difference Between Phrases & Clauses

Clauses are a grouping of words that contain both a subject and a verb. Thus, a clause may be a complete sentence. On the other hand, a phrase can’t be a sentence as both its subject and its verb aren’t present. A phrase is a fragment of a sentence on its own.

Clauses serve as the center of sentences and phrases that reinforce the sentences. Clauses are the foundation of a building. In contrast, phrases are like bricks that fill the walls.

A clause should have a finite verb, whereas a phrase must not. A phrase is a cluster of words that does not have a finite verb in it and can’t complete the sentence by itself.

The clauses on clauses are phrases, and the clauses in sentences are clauses. It is easy to visualize these three things: phrases make up clauses, and in turn, clauses make up sentences.

Often, a phrase is understood to mean both a sentence component and a common expression. We refer to these two forms of phrases as grammatical phrases and common phrases.

A grammatical phrase is a set of words that work together as a unit. Grammatical phrases add meaning to sentences by providing details about certain parts of speech.

Most frequently, you’ll find two or more examples of grammatical phrases in the same sentence. Types of speech may be assigned their names based on their parts of speech or their role in a sentence.

Below you may find the main types of phrases in grammar.

The Types of Phrases in Grammar

Adjective Phrase

This type of phrase describes an adjective or provides additional meaning to it. Nominates and any other words that modify adjectives are included.

Gerund Phrase

The gerund is a phrase with a gerund spelled out as a noun. It is an adjectival noun that is created by adding a verb and its modifiers. The context phrase acts as a noun within a sentence.

Infinitive Phrase

What is an “infinitive” phrase? The phrase is composed of an infinitive, accompanied by “to” and the words that give it clarity. 

Adverb Phrase

Adverbs are often used to describe sentences that have an adverbial role. Nouns, adjectives, and other adjectives are modified by adjectival.

Verb Phrase

A verb phrase is a verb plus any other words that move along with the verb. These include articles, helping verbs, direct objects, indirect objects, and adverbs.

To Wrap Up

Phrases are essential to every piece of writing, from a blog post to a newspaper article, and from a book to an essay. When looking for a phrase to use in your writing, an understanding of phrase types will help you pick the appropriate option.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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