Introduction to English Phrases & Clauses
English Language Grammar Lessons

Introduction to Phrases

Phrases are considered as the second level of classification as they tend to be larger than individual words, but are smaller than sentences. We refer to the central element in a phrase as the head of the phrase. If the head is a noun then the phrase is called a noun phrase.

There are nine generally accepted classifications for phrases. These classifications are generally based on the headword or construction of the phrase. The headword can usually stand alone as a one-word phrase. It is the only part that cannot be omitted from the phrase.

1. Noun phrases

Noun phrases may serve as subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of prepositions. Most noun phrases are constructed using determiners, adjectives and a head noun.

Examples: My coach is happy. (noun phrase as subject)

2. Verb phrases

Verb phrases are composed of the verbs of the sentence and any modifiers of the verbs, including adverbs, prepositional phrases or objects. Most verb phrases function as predicates of sentences.

Example: Henry made my coach very proud. (verb phrase as predicate)

3. Adjectival phrases

Adjectival phrases are composed of the adjectives that modify a noun and any adverbs or other elements that modify those adjectives. Adjectival phrases always occur inside noun phrases or as predicate adjectives.

Example: Dad bought [(a blue and green) sweater]

4. Adverbial phrases

Adverbial phrases are composed of the adverbs that modify verbs, adjectives, or clauses. Adverbial phrases may occur with more than one word. The extra adverb is called an intensifier.

Example: He scored the goal very quickly.

5. Prepositional phrases

Prepositional phrases are composed of the preposition and a following noun phrase. Prepositional phrases are used either adjectivally to modify nouns or adverbially to modify verbs, adjectives, or clauses.

The man in the house rented it. (prepositional phrase modifies a noun adjectivally)
He went in the arena. (prepositional phrase modifies a verb adverbially)
Dad was happy about the goal. (prepositional phrase modifies an adjective adverbially)
On reflection, I believe that she was correct. (prepositional phrase modifies a clause adverbially)

6. Gerundive phrases

Gerundive phrases may function in any way in which nouns may function: as subjects, objects, objects of a preposition, or even nouns functioning as adjectives Gerundive phrases may contain gerunds, adjectives, objects, adverbs or other main verb elements.

Example: Dad talked about winning the game.

7. Participial phrases

Participles are root verbs with an "ed, en or ing" suffix. In the case of the past participial, the form may be irregular. Participial phrases may contain objects and other elements that might occur with main verbs. Participial phrases always function as adjectives.

Example: Racing around the corner, he slipped and fell.

8. Absolute phrases

Absolute phrases are composed of a subject noun phrase and a participial phrase. The absolute phrase is formally independent of the main clause. The subject of the absolute phrase does not have to appear in the main clause--because the absolute phrase has its own subject!

Example: [(My chores) (completed for the week)], I went on a walk.

9. Infinitive phrases

Infinitive phrases are composed of an infinitive verb (the base form of the verb preceded by to) and any modifing adverbs or prepositional phrases. The infinitive phrase has three functions: noun, adjective, adverb.

My duty as a coach is to teach skills. (infinitive phrase functions as a noun)
My sister wanted a cat to love. (infinitive phrase functions as an adjective)
Bill is eager to work on his skating. (infinitive phrase functions adverbially, modifying an adjective)

Introduction to Clauses

All clauses have a subject and a verb.

1. Independent clause

This clause is a sentence and can act as a sentence.

Example: I wanted a new ball.

2. Subordinate clauses

A subordinate clause has a subordinator.

Examples: Fred knew that I wanted a new ball.

3. Adverbial clauses

Adverbial clauses modify the entire independent clause or another subordinate clause to which they might be attached. Some adverbial subordinators:" because, while, as, if, when, although, as if, after, since, unless, before, until". Adverbial clauses signal common adverbial meanings such as time of the event, place of the event, manner of the event, cause of the event or condition for the event.

I haven't been skating since we all went up to Banff last winter.
He stood there as if he was frozen to the very spot.
Fred jogs where there is no traffic because he likes it.

4. Relative clauses

Relative clauses modify nouns and sometimes indefinite pronouns. Relative clauses occur with the relative pronouns "that, who, which, whom, whose" Relative clauses may also begin with the following relative adverbs "when, where, why".

I saw the player [who hit you].
I saw the player [that hit you].
I like the park [where I jog].
I would like to know the reason [why you didn't eat the vegtables].

5. Nominal clauses

Nominal clauses function as nouns and are subordinated by one of the following subordinating conjunctions 'how that what when where whether which who why". Nominal clauses may be replaced with a pronoun

[How you did it] is not my concern. (That is not my concern)
[That I wanted a ball] was irrelevant in the discussion. ( It was irrelevant )

Sentence Constructions

Compound sentences

Compound sentences are constructed using two independant clauses.

a. Fred hit the ball well, but he only walked to first base.
b. Computer technologies are more sophisticated and today's technicians are better trained.

Complex sentences

Complex sentences are constructed using an independant sentence and a dependant or subordinated clause.

Example: The motion, which the commons narrowly passed, was defeated by the senate.
(Adjective clause introduced by relative pronoun)

Compound - Complex sentences

Compound - Complex sentences are constucted using two independant sentences or clauses and a dependant clause.

Example: When the jets fly by, the windows rattle noisily and the whole house shakes.

Link to the English Vocabulary for Mathematics

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