PHRASES – Meaning, types and forms
Table of Contents
A phrase is a group of related words with a headword, which conveys meaning but, is not a complete sentence. A phrase may also consist of just one word. A clause or sentence can usually be broken down into phrases.
There are five kinds of phrases and each phrase takes its name from the word class which plays the main part in its structure. Thus, in a “noun phrase” a noun is the main part of the structure of the phrase and in an adjective phrase an adjective is the main part of the structure of the phrase.
A noun phrase is an equivalent of a noun and functions like a noun in a sentence or clause. It is a group of words with the noun as the headword. A noun phrase can either act as the subject, object or complement of the sentence or clause. Most nouns phrases end with nouns. Most often, articles, demonstratives, and modifiers combine with a noun to form a noun phrase.
A gang of robbers is in the bank.
A gang of robbers is a noun phrase. It is the subject of the verb.
The highlighted part of the sentence is the subject of the verb –is because it is what performs the action. The way to find out a part of speech is by substitution. If you doubt whether the noun phrase is really a noun-equivalent, substitute it with a widely accepted noun.
• Peter is in the bank.
Since Peter is comfortable in the position occupied by a “a gang of robbers” it means that “a gang of robbers” is a noun-equivalent. Because it consists of more than one word, it is a noun phrase.
• The Chairman, a highly controversial person, disagreed with everybody.
A highly controversial person is a noun phrase.
To ascertain whether a highly controversial person is truly a noun phrase, we can say; “The chairman, Peter, disagreed with everybody”.
Note that most noun phrases end with nouns.
• Put this iron there.
• Ten students are there.
• Your house is beautiful
Other examples are:
• We have some intelligent students. (noun phrase acting as the object of the verb –have).
An adjective phrase, also called an adjectival phrase, is a group of related words in which the main word is an adjective and which functions as an adjective in a sentence or clause. That is, they tell us more about a noun.
• The girl with the bell is the head girl.
• The bicycle in the classroom belongs to Prince.
• She was tired, miserable and hungry.
• The Js2 students have completed Js1.
An adverb phrase also called an adverbial phrase or an adverbial is a group of related words in which the main word is an adverb and which functions as an adverb in a sentence or clause. While verbs describe actions or states, adverbs and adverbials tell us how, when, where or why an action takes place.
• The students performed intelligently. (adverb)
• The students performed with great intelligence. (adverbial phrase)
• He came yesterday. (adverb)
• He came at 4’o clock (adverbial phrase)
• He handled the cup carefully. (adverb)
• He handled the cup with caution (adverbial phrase)
ADDENDUM ON PHRASES/CLAUSES
Experience has shown that to distinguish between a clause and a phrase poses a problem to students. We have earlier discussed that the difference between a clause and a phrase is finite and non-finite verbs. While clauses contain finite verbs, phrases do not contain finite verbs, but non-finite verbs.
Let us consider “verbs in operation” for a better understanding of this topic.
VERBS IN OPERATION:
The verb forms operate in finite and non-finite verb phrases. The –ing participle, and the –en participle are non-finite because they cannot stand on their own without the help of an auxiliary verb. The –s form and the past tense form ‘ed’ are the finite verbs.
Finite verbs are the simple present tense and simple past tense forms of verbs. In other words, they are verb form that shows present tense or past tense
• We play football daily. (present tense)
• They played football yesterday. (past tense)
• He plays football. (third-person singular present)
A verb which does not show present or past tense in a sentence is known as a non-finite verb. They are the “ing”, infinitive and the past participle forms of the verb.
They cannot stand on their own except with the help of an auxiliary verb.
• I writing now } without auxiliary verbs
• He written the book
• I am writing now } with the help of auxiliary verbs
• He has written the book
There are three classes of the non-finite verbs. They are
A. Infinitive –to : examples: to eat, to tell, to predict.
The best thing would be to tell everybody.
He was afraid to predict the football results.
B. Participles – ing participles examples:
Leaving the room, he fell under the desk.
I found him working.
C. –ed participles: example;
Covered with confusion, he left the room.
We have studied earlier that a noun phrase must do the work of a noun equivalent. As a noun or noun-equivalent, it must also have the functions of noun. That is, it can be the subject of a verb or object of a verb in a sentence. The following serves as examples:
• Running round the school everyday is a good exercise.
• Where to find water in the desert poses a problem.
• How to solve the problem has not been discovered.
• What to write is what he wants.
The highlighted part of each sentence above is a phrase because it does not contain a finite verb. It is a noun phrase because it does not work as a noun. It is the subject of the verb in the sentence. Thus in sentences;
Running round the school every day is the subject of the verb “is” in the sentence.
Where to find water in the desert is the subject of the verb “posses”.
How to solve the problem is the subject of the verb “has (not)been discovered.”
The word “has not been discovered” form one verb. The word “not” is put in bracket because it is not a verb, but an adverb. None of the three words forming the verb must be left out.
A noun phrase must answer the question “what?” if it cannot, then it is not a
The question “what is good exercise” is answered by “running round the school every day.” In (B) the question what posses a problem” is answered by “where to find water in the desert.” In “C” “what to write.”
Besides answering the question “what” a noun phrase must have the word “it” as a substitute for itself. We explained this earlier by saying that if you substitute “it” for each phrase, the sentence reads fluently and retains its meaning and grammar. Let us take the four examples again and substitute “it” in their places and see if each sentence would retain its structure and grammar.
“it” is a good exercise.
“it” poses a problem.
“it” has not been discovered.
NOUN PHRASE AS OBJECT OF A VERB
Another function of a noun is that it is subject of a verb. Since a noun phrase is a noun equivalent, it can also be the object of a verb in the sentence.
(i) Bello likes reading good novels.
(ii) Chioma likes engaging in domestic chores.
(iii) Olowu lacks good manner at tables.
(iv) The English language teacher does not like long and winding sentences.
The highlighted parts of the sentence is a noun phrase, which is the object of the verb in the sentence. In sentence (iv), the verb is “does like” (not), so the expression “long and winding sentences,” is a noun phrase, the object of the verb.
As noun phrase, each of the underlined group of words must satisfy the two principles of answering the question “what”? and being substituted with the word “it”.
NOUN PHRASE, OBJECT OF PREPOSITION
Another function of noun is that noun function as an object of a preposition. Therefore, a noun phrase, is not only the object of a verb, but also serves as the object preposition.
The thief was charged with violent robbery and housebreaking.
The principal spoke about the good behaviour of students in the town.
The final year students of this school must aim at making amiable result every year.
A serious student prefers reading his books to willing away his precious time.
Good students always guide against breaking school rules.
In the examples here, each noun phrase is highlighted, while preposition of which it is the object is italicized.