The Basic Rules of Grammar: Constructing the Sentence using Phrases


A phrase is a group of words that is not constructed around a subject or predicate and cannot stand on its own in a sentence. Phrases can function as subjects, objects, complements, modifiers, or adverbials. There are eight kinds of phrases: noun, verb, prepositional, verbal (participial, gerund, and infinitive), appositive, and absolute. simple, compound, complex, and compound complex.

  • The noun phrase consists of a noun and its modifiers and can function as subject, object, or complement.

  • The verb phrase consists of the main verb plus its auxiliary or helping verb and functions only as the predicate.
  • The prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, an object of the preposition (a noun or a pronoun), as well as any modifiers of the object. It functions like an adjective or an adverb.
  • Verbal Phrases consist of a verbal, (a verb form that does not function as the main verb of the sentence but instead functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb) and its modifiers.There are three types of verbal phrases: participles, gerunds, and infinitives.
    • The participial phrase consists of a participle and its modifiers, objects, or complements. There are two kinds of participles:

      (1)the present participle, formed by adding -ing to an infinitive verb and
      (2) the past participle, formed by adding -d or -ed to a regular infinitive verb or to the correct form of an irregular verb.

      The participial phrase functions as an adjective.
    • A gerund is the present participle of the verb (the -ing form) functioning just like a noun.
      The gerund phrase consists of the gerund and its modifiers, objects, or complements. For example: Playing rock music was all John ever wanted to do.
    • An infinitive consists of "to" + the base form of a verb (to walk, to dance, to think). Usually these two are together, but not always. When this happens it is called a split infinitive. For example: He seems to always complain. An infinitive is not a verb, so -s, -es, -ed, and -ing can never be added to it. An infinitive phrase consists of the infinitive and the object of the infinitive and can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

      For example: To find a house she loves that is in her price range is Sharon's dream. To find a house she loves . . . is an infinitive phrase that functions as a noun because it is the subject of the sentence.

      For example: Earl went to the lecture on African art last week to learn about the masks, sculptures, and everyday objects of different tribal groups. The infinitive phrase to learn about the masks, sculptures, and everyday objects functions as an adverb because it tells why Earl went to the lecture.

      For example: The open window provides a way to get fresh air into the hot classroom. The infinitive phrase to get fresh air . . . functions as an adjective because it modifies way.

  • An appositive is a noun or a pronoun that is placed beside another noun or pronoun in a sentence to explain, identify, restate, or add additional information about that noun or pronoun. For example: My sister Sarah is moving to California.
    An appositive phrase includes the appositive and words that modify it. For example: Zora Neale Hurston, noted anthropologist and folklorist, is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    Please note: If the appositive or appositive phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence, a comma (or commas) is not used. If the meaning of the sentence is clear without the appositive or appositive phrase, then it must be set off with commas.

  • An absolute phrase modifies an entire sentence and consists of a noun or pronoun, any modifiers, and a participle or participial phrase. For example: Facing cold weather, exhaustion, starvation, disease, and death, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its land east of the Mississippi and walk or travel by boat to what is now Oklahoma.