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A traditional definition of a phrase


A small group of related words within a sentence or clause. Adjective: phrasal.

A phrase functions as a part of speech and includes a head (or headword), which determines the nature of the unit.

Principal Types of Phrases:

See also:


From the Greek, "explain, tell"

Types of Phrases With Examples:

  • Absolute Phrase
    "Still he came on, shoulders hunched, face twisted, wringing his hands, looking more like an old woman at a wake than an infantry combat soldier."
    (James Jones, The Thin Red Line)

  • Adjective Phrase
    "It is always the best policy to speak the truth--unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar."
    (Jerome K. Jerome)

  • Adverb Phrase
    "Movements born in hatred very quickly take on the characteristics of the thing they oppose."
    (J. S. Habgood)

  • Gerund Phrase
    "Failing the exam was a major disappointment to him, to me and to Eva."
    (Judith Hubback, From Dawn to Dusk)

  • Infinitive Phrase
    To laugh is to live profoundly.”
    (Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

  • Noun Phrase
    "Buy a big bright green pleasure machine!"
    (Paul Simon)

  • Participial Phrase
    "He moved ahead more quickly now, dragging his heels a little in the fine dust."
    (John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath)

  • Prepositional Phrase
    "I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought I'd rather dance with the cows until you come home."
    (Groucho Marx)

  • Verb Phrase
    "Your father may be going away for a little while."
    (Ellen Griswold in Vacation, 1983)
  • An Expanded Definition
    "A prototypical phrase is a group of words forming a unit and consisting of a head or 'nucleus' together with other words or word groups clustering around it. If the head of the phrase is a noun, we speak of a noun phrase (NP) (e.g. all those beautiful houses built in the sixties). If the head is a verb, the phrase is a verb phrase (VP). In the following sentence the VP is in italics and the verb head is [in bold]:
    Jill prepared us a couple of sandwiches.
    A phrase is only potentially complex. In other words, the term is also used to refer to 'one-word phrases,' i.e. non-prototypical phrases that consist of a head only. Thus the sentence Jill smokes is a combination of a noun phrase and a verb phrase."
    (Renaat Declerck, Susan Reed, and Bert Cappelle, The Grammar of the English Tense System: A Comprehensive Analysis. Mouton de Gruyter, 2006)

  • Phrases and Clauses
    "Phrases contrast with clauses, which they do, however, resemble. . . . The main feature of a clause is that it has all the components of a potentially independent sentence, namely a verb and usually a subject, and perhaps objects, too. A part of a sentence with just these components would be called a clause rather than a phrase. A phrase can contain a verb, without its subject, or it may itself be the subject of some verb."
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)

  • Complex Structures
    "Noun phrases and prepositional phrases can have particularly complex structure in written texts, with several layers of phrase embedding. In fact, the complexity of phrases is a very striking measure for comparing the complexity of syntax in different registers of English. The simplest structures occur in conversation and the complexity increases through fiction and newspaper writing, with academic writing showing the greatest complexity of phrase structure."
    (Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Longman, 2002)
Pronunciation: FRAZ
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