What Is a Phrase?
A phrase is a small group of related words working together as a unit. Unlike a clause, a phrase does not contain a subject and a verb. Many different types of phrases exist:
A verb phrase consists of an auxiliary, or helping, verb and a main verb. The helping verb always precedes the main verb.
Helping verbs include words such as is, been, did, has, might, must, was, were, will, and would.
Verb Phrase Examples:
(Will try is the verb phrase. Will is the helping verb, and try is the main verb.)
(Must be is the verb phrase. Must is the helping verb, and be is the main verb.)
An appositive is a noun or pronoun that renames or identifies another noun or pronoun in some way. An appositive phrase consists of an appositive and its modifiers.
(One of the Seven Wonders of the World is the appositive phrase. It identifies Pyramids of Giza.)
(A purple color is the appositive phrase. It identifies mauve.)
A preposition draws a relationship between a noun or pronoun and another word in a sentence. A prepositional phrase includes a preposition, its object, and any modifiers of the object. Common examples of prepositions include after, at, before, behind, by, during, for, from, in, near, of, on, over, past, to, under, until, up, and with.
Prepositional phrases can function as either adjective phrases or adverb phrases to modify other words in a sentence.
Prepositional Phrase Examples:
(With is the preposition, and with the broken leg is the prepositional phrase. The prepositional phrase functions as an adjective phrase, modifying chair.)
(In is the preposition, and in the yard is the prepositional phrase. The prepositional phrase functions as an adverb phrase, modifying are playing.)
A verbal is a verb form that acts as another part of speech—either as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Participles, gerunds, and infinitives are the three types of verbals.
A participle is a verb form that functions as an adjective by modifying nouns and pronouns. A participle can be either a present participle or a past participle. A participial phrase includes the participle, plus any modifiers and complements.
Participial Phrase Examples:
(Prancing is the present participle, and prancing through the field is the participial phrase. The participial phrase modifies deer.)
(Delighted is the past participle, and delighted by her new toy is the participial phrase. The participial phrase modifies Mila.)
A gerund is a verb form that ends in -ing. A gerund phrase includes the gerund, plus any modifiers and complements. Gerunds and gerund phrases always function as nouns. They can act as subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, predicate nominatives, or objects of a preposition in a sentence.
Gerund Phrase Examples:
(Waterskiing is the gerund. Waterskiing on the lake is the gerund phrase. It acts as a subject in the sentence.)
(Waiting is the gerund, and waiting for people is the gerund phrase. The gerund phrase acts as a direct object in the sentence.)
An infinitive is a verb form that typically begins with the word to. An infinitive phrase includes the infinitive, plus any modifiers and complements. Infinitives and infinitive phrases can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. As nouns, infinitives and infinitive phrases can act either as subjects, direct objects, or predicate nominatives
Infinitive Phrase Examples:
( To eat is the infinitive, and to eat in the winter is the infinitive phrase. The infinitive phrase functions as an adjective phrase in the sentence, modifying meal.)
(To find is the infinitive, and to find my way around a new town is the infinitive phrase. The infinitive phrase functions as an adverb phrase in the sentence, modifying study.)
Adjective and Adverb Phrases
Like an adjective, an adjective phrase modifies a noun or pronoun by providing more information about it. As shown above, prepositional phrases, participial phrases, and infinitive phrases can all function as adjective phrases in sentences.
An adverb phrase, like an adverb, modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb by providing additional details about it. The examples above show how prepositional phrases and infinitive phrases can both function as adverb phrases in sentences.