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A phrase is one or more words that form a meaningful grammatical unit within a clause. A clause contains a subject and a predicate and in many cases, can be a sentence on its own. In contrast, a phrase can’t be its own sentence because a phrase does not contain a subject and predicate.

    • Phrase: Meows so loudly
    • Clause: That cat meows so loudly

Clauses contain phrases, and sentences contain clauses. There are five main types of phrases in English.

Noun Phrase

A noun phrase (NP) can be a single noun or a group of words built around a single noun. It provides detail or clarification about a noun.

    • Animals need water.
    • Who ate the last sandwich?
    • All passengers with tickets can board now.
    • My small dog barks at ducks.
    • The boxy van outside has circled the block twice already.

Verb Phrase

A verb phrase (VP, also called a “verb group”) consists of the main verb and its auxiliary verbs (including modals). It contains a verb and any linking verbs or modifiers. A verb phrase plays the role of a verb in the sentence where it’s used.

    • We have been working since 9 am.
    • I will be going to France next week.
    • It may have been repaired.
    • Shelley has been waiting for an hour already.
    • I am writing a novel.

Adjective Phrase

An adjective phrase can be a single adjective or a group of words built around a single adjective. It describes or otherwise provides additional meaning for an adjective.

    • He has clever ideas.
    • It was a very big meal.
    • The students were really bored with the film.
    • That song choice was way too bold.
    • She was taller than all of her classmates.

Adverb Phrase

An adverb phrase can be a single adverb or a group of words built around a single adverb. It takes on the role of an adverb in a sentence. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

    • Please do it now.
    • He spoke very softly.
    • They did it as fast as possible.
    • He bakes cakes every Sunday.
    • We ran out of there at a breakneck speed.

Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition followed by its object (usually a noun phrase). They can also include modifiers.

      • They were arguing about money.
      • The window was behind a large brown sofa.
      • The cat jumped onto the counter.
      • The space under the grey shed is overgrown and needs to be cleared out.
      • They resumed after an unusually large meal.

The table below shows all five phrase types used in a single clause:

heis jumpingoverthevery lazydogas fast as possible
NPVPPrepPAdvP
NP
AdjP
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δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring to various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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