English Grammar: Types of Phrases

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A phrase is a group of words without both a subject and predicate. Phrases combine words into a larger unit that can function as a sentence element. For example, a participial phrase can include adjectives, nouns, prepositions and adverbs; as a single unit, however, it functions as one big adjective modifying a noun (or noun phrase). See this overview of phrases for more.

  • Noun Phrase - "The crazy old lady in the park feeds the pigeons every day." A noun phrase consists of a noun and all of its modifiers, which can include other phrases (like the prepositional phrase in the park). More examples.
    • Appositive Phrase - "Bob, my best friend, works here" or "My best friend Bob works here." An appositive (single word, phrase, or clause) renames another noun, not technically modifying it. See this page from the Armchair Grammarian for everything you ever wanted to know about appositives.
    • Gerund Phrase - "I love baking cakes." A gerund phrase is just a noun phrase with a gerund as its head.
    • Infinitive Phrase - "I love to bake cakes." An infinitive phrase is a noun phrase with an infinitive as its head. Unlike the other noun phrases, however, an infinitive phrase can also function as an adjective or an adverb. More examples.
  • Verb Phrase - The verb phrase can refer to the whole predicate of a sentence (I was watching my favorite show yesterday) or just the verb or verb group (was watching).
  • Adjectival Phrase - As with adverbial phrases, adjectival phrases can either refer to a group of adjectives (full of toys) or any phrase (like a participial or prepositional phrase) that acts as an adjective -- see this second definition.
  • Participial Phrase - "Crushed to pieces by a sledgehammer, the computer no longer worked" or "I think the guy sitting over there likes you."  A participial phrase has a past or present participle as its head. Participial phrases always function as adjectives.
  • Prepositional Phrase - "The food on the table looked delicious." A prepositional phrase, which has a preposition as its head, can function as an adjective, adverb, or even as a noun.
  • Absolute Phrase - "My cake finally baking in the oven, I was free to rest for thirty minutes." Unlike participial phrases, absolute phrases have subjects and modify the entire sentence, not one noun. Almost a clause, the absolute phrase can include every sentence element except a finite verb. For example, "My cake finally baking in the oven" would be its own sentence if you just added one finite verb: "My cake was finally baking in the oven." See Absolute Phrase for more.

Next, see English Grammar: Types of Clauses.