What are Phrases Study Guide
What are Phrases
Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.
WILLIAM SAFIRE (1929– )
These indispensable and adaptable groups of words add information and detail, and bring cohesiveness to ideas within a sentence. In this lesson, you will learn how phrases help bring structure to your writing.
A phrase is a string of two or more words that can express a thought or function as a single part of speech, like an adjective or an adverb, in a sentence. They do not contain both a subject and a predicate, so they cannot function as a sentence.For example:
|Phrases without a Predicate:|
|that car||Shannon's umbrella||their pool|
|Phrases without a Subject:|
|almost hit a tree||broke into pieces||is heated year round|
Adjective and Adverb Phrases
As you may remember from Lesson 8, a prepositional phrase is a phrase that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or a pronoun (also called an OOP). Within a sentence, prepositional phrases always act as if they were adjectives or adverbs—we call them adjective phrases and adverb phrases. When functioning like an adjective, the phrase answers what kind? or which one? about the noun or pronoun it is modifying.
- Dad's polka-dotted tie looked silly.
Here, polka-dotted is an adjective telling what kind of tie Dad had.
- Dad's tie with polka-dots looked silly.
Here, with polka-dots is a prepositional phrase (adjective phrase) acting like an adjective modifying the noun tie.
Likewise, when functioning like an adverb, the phrase answers where? when? how? or to what extent? about the verb, adjective, or adverb it is modifying.
- We will begin class tomorrow.
- We will begin class on Monday.
Tomorrow is an adverb telling when about the verb begin in the sentence. On Monday is a prepositional phrase (adverb phrase) acting like an adverb modifying the verb begin. Let's look at another example.
- The ballerina danced gracefully across the stage.
- The ballerina danced with grace across the stage.
The adverb gracefully tells how the ballerina danced. The adverb phrase with grace also tells how she danced.
An appositive is a word that renames, identifies, or gives more detail about a noun or pronoun that it follows in the sentence.
- Their son Raul is going to Princeton in the fall.
The noun son is being renamed and further identified by the appositive Raul in the sentence.
We can also add other modifiers to the appositive Raul and make an appositive phrase:
- Their son Raul, the oldest of four, is going to Princeton in the fall.
Appositives can also be compound:
- Their son Raul, the oldest of four and an outstanding student, is going to Princeton in the fall.
Gerund and Participial Phrases
A gerund phrase begins with an -ing word, or a gerund. Unlike prepositional phrases, gerund phrases act like a noun in a sentence, so you find them acting like subjects or objects.
- Walking across the rickety wooden bridge was scary.
Walking across the rickety wooden bridge answers what was scary? Thus, it functions as a noun in the sentence.
Don't confuse a gerund phrase with a participial phrase. Like a gerund, a participle ends with -ing, but that is the extent of their likeness. A participial phrase functions like an adjective in a sentence, describing a noun or a pronoun;a gerund phrase always acts like a noun.
- Walking across the rickety wooden bridge, I stepped on each board with caution.
Walking across the rickety wooden bridge is describing the subject I in the sentence. Thus, it functions as an adjective.
A practice exercises for phrases can be found at What are Phrases Practice Exercise.
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