Phrases are a single group of words (typically two or more words).
There are two mains types of phrases :
- Noun Phrases: Noun phrases contain a noun
- and Verb Phrases: Verb phrases will typically begin with a verb.
Remember, that when applying phrases to your writing, phrases, as opposed to clauses, will not stand on their own as a complete idea. Therefore, you will be using phrases to modify and add detail to your sentences.
- Clause: A group of related words containing a subject and verb.
- Phrase: A word or group of related words lacking a subject and verb.
Even though knowing individual prepositions is important, prepositional phrases are used far more frequently. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun and includes any words that come in between the two. Study the examples below.
- in the village
- despite the extensive remodeling project
- underneath the grey blanket
- near him
- between you and me
- with her
Note how each phrase above begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun.
Prepositional phrases contain a preposition and a noun. “In the writing center” is an example of a prepositional phrase.
Take the sentence we looked at above:
- The tutor, who was in the writing center, discussed the paper with the student.
We can change the clause, who was in the writing center, into a phrase by removing the modifier who and, most importantly, the verb was. We now have the phrase in the writing center. Let’s place it back in the sentence:
- The tutor, in the writing center, discussed the paper with the student.
The crucial difference is that we no longer use a verb (was). Therefore, we have a simple prepositional phrase.
Look at a few more examples:
- From my vantage point, I can see two eagles.
- Upon further review, I think you deserve an “A.”
- You’ll find the door down the hall and to the left. (two prepositional phrases)
Prepositional phrases–made up minimally of:
- + noun or a pronoun
–are the hardest working modifiers in the English language.
They can act like:
- and like adverbs.
Because they are so robust, they can modify nouns or verbs in sentences. Prepositional phrases can add description and detail to your writing.
Many phrases modify a specific word, but absolute phrases describe the whole clause that follows or comes before it.
This is helpful to you because you may like a sentence that you have written, but you want to add more detail. You can place an absolute phrase before or after the sentence as it’s written.
Here are some examples:
- Diamonds sparkling in the sunlight, the ring made its way up the wedding aisle.
- She fought off the zombies one by one, hands grabbing and punching each of them as they advanced.
- His feet rooted to the spot, the hunter listened for sounds of movement in the forest.
Absolute phrases are sometimes easily added to your sentences because you need not change the root sentence that you have written. Let’s say you started with the following sentence:
- The clerk monitored the customers.
But we can easily add to the sentence using the parts of speech.
- The busy clerk monitored the customers in the self-checkout area at the hardware store.
With an absolute phrase, we can add even more to this simple sentence.
- His eyes watching every scanner, the busy clerk monitored the customers in the self-checkout area at the hardware store.
The absolute phrase describes the whole sentence and provides detail about how the clerk monitors the customers. Absolute phrases are especially helpful when writing about something you have observed closely.
As you may have already noticed, absolute phrases are considered a type of noun phrase because they contain at least a noun and a participle.
In most cases, you will also easily be able to add modifiers and/or objects to your absolute phrases.
- Diamonds (noun) sparkling (verb - present participle) in the sunlight (modifier, in this case a prepositional phrase)
- hands (noun) grabbing and punching (verbs – present participle) each (object) of them as they advanced (modifiers)
- Feet (noun) rooted (verb – past participle) to the spot (modifier)
- His eyes (noun) watching(verb – Present participle) every scanner (object)
Absolute phrases is one of the most helpful phrases when writing because they are so easy to add to well-crafted sentences.
Appositive Phrases add detail and modify a noun.
Apposition means to place two things next to each other for explanation. With Appositive Phrases, you add layers of meaning to a sentence.
An appositive may be one word that modifies another noun (“My cousin Dan lives next door.”).
Like absolute phrases, you may add these to a sentence that you’ve already written. Appositive phrases can be added to the beginning or end of a sentence like absolute phrases, but they can also be added within sentences as well. Instead of containing a noun and a verb/participle, Appositive Phrases will consist of nouns and modifiers.
Here are some examples:
- His car, a rusty 1982 Ford Mustang, chugged down the road like an old mule.
- A usually calm and mild-mannered employee, Anthony erupted with a volley of barely intelligible words.
- The critic praised the lead actor, a teenager from India.
When using appositive phrases in the middle of a sentence note that you must use two commas, one before the phrase and one at the end, to separate it from the main sentence.
We can add subordinate clauses to appositive phrases, as in the following example:
- The critic praised the lead actor, a teenager from India who began working at the theater and became an understudy with no formal training.
You must always place an appositive as close to the noun it is modifying as possible. Otherwise, you may end up modifying a noun you did not intend.
Infinitive phrases begin with the infinitive form of a verb, to+verb:
- to swim
- to laugh
- to feel
We can make phrases from these infinitives by adding detail:
- to swim the length of the pool under water
- to laugh more often
- to feel valued and respected
We can then add these to sentences:
- To swim the length of the pool under water, he had to hold his breath for two full minutes.
- To laugh more often, the couple decided to watch more comedies.
- To feel valued and respected, students should share their talents and life experiences.
These same infinitive phrases can also go in a different position in the sentence to create a different emphasis. As with adverb subordinate clauses, if an infinitive phrase is placed at the end of the sentence, you do not use a comma:
- He had to hold his breath for two full minutes to swim the length of the pool under water.
- The couple decided to watch more comedies to laugh more often.
- Students should share their talents and life experiences to feel valued and respected.
Infinitive phrases will always contain and begin with to+verb and express a goal. You will find these helpful when you are writing about what you desire to have happen or are making a plea for something that needs to happen.
Participial phrases use the participial form of the verb.
Participial phrases will add action and excitement to your sentences. Look at a few examples:
- Overpowered by the strong urge to vomit, the boy ran outside.
- Running out of time, she wrote the first word that came to mind.
- Driving at nearly 120 miles per hour, the car swerved and narrowly missed a deer.
- Exhausted by the long day of rowing, he fell asleep immediately.
Notice how these sentences are more descriptive and appealing with participial phrases. You can use present and past participial phrases to expand and to add sophistication to your sentences.