A phrase is a group of related words that lacks both a subject and a verb. Because it lacks a subject and a predicate it cannot act as a sentence. A phrase typically functions as a single part of speech in a sentence (e.g., noun, adjective, adverb). Most phrases have a central word defining the type of phrase. This word is called the head of the phrase. Some phrases, however, can be headless.
Phrases may be classified by the type of head taken by them:
The prepositional phrase includes the preposition and the object of the preposition as well as any modifiers related to either.
In the following examples, the preposition is bold and the prepositional phrase is underlined.
The flying saucer appeared above the lake before it disappeared into space.
ABOVE is not an adverb because it has an object to complete its meaning; therefore, ABOVE is a preposition and the entire phrase is an adverb phrase.
Crystal could hear her sister snoring across the room.
Objects usually answer the question what. To determine the object of the preposition, we can ask: Crystal could hear her sister snoring across what?
You should consider reading the notes *before you come to class.
BEFORE is not a preposition because is not followed by an object that it links to the clause. It is followed by another clause that is subordinate in meaning to the independent clause; therefore, it is a subordinate conjunction.
The participial phrase includes the participle and the object of the participle or any words modified by or related to the participle.
In the following examples, the participle is bold and the participial phrase is underlined.
The car sliding out of control toward building will likely hit the window.
SLIDING modifies the CAR. The verb is WILL HIT.
Cameron spotted his brother throwing rocks at the passing cars.
THROWING is not a verb in this sentence. It describes the brother. Without an auxiliary verb, it cannot function as a verb. SPOTTED is the verb for the subject CARMEN.
The astronaut chosen to ride the space shuttle to Mars is afraid of heights.
CHOSEN describes the ASTRONAUT.
The gerund phrase includes the gerund and the object of the gerund or any modifiers related to the gerund.
In the following examples, the gerund is bold and the gerund phrase is underlined.
Flying above the lake at this time of night seems a little dangerous.
FLYING is the subject of the sentence. A subject is a noun. A form of the verb ending in ING and used as a noun is a gerund. FLYING is a gerund.
Bill decided that scrambling over the pile of debris was not safe.
SCRAMBLING is the subject of the dependent clause. A subject is a noun. A form of the verb ending in ING and used as a noun is a gerund. SCRAMBLING is a gerund.
Ethan avoided doing his homework because the Ducks were playing the Cougars.
DOING is the direct object of the verb AVOIDED. An object is a noun. A form of the verb ending in ING and used as a noun is a gerund. DOING is a gerund. HOMEWORK is the object of the gerund.
The infinitive phrase includes the infinitive and the object of the infinitive or any modifiers related to the infinitive.
In the following examples, the infinitive is bold and the infinitive phrase is underlined.
Even in New York, fans did not manage to buy the hype.
TO BUY is the direct object of the verb DID MANAGE. THE HYPE is the object of the infinitive.
The seemingly simple decision to appoint a Democrat caused controversy.
TO APPOINT is an adjective modifying DECISION. A DEMOCRAT is the object of the infinitive.
The gap provides a way to give Democratic candidates an edge in close elections
TO GIVE is an adjective modifying WAY. The object of the infinitive is CANDIDATES.
A word, phrase or clause that means the same thing as (i.e., synonym) or further explains another noun (pronoun).
Non-restrictive appositives are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Restrictive appositives are essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Her husband, Fritz, is a nice guy.
We assume she has only one husband. Thus, commas are used.
The firm chose Mary, vice president of public affairs, as its chief executive officer.
Because we have identified the person by name, her title is additional information. It can be set off by commas. In other words, we could take it out and the meaning would not change.
The Grand Canyon, one of our nation's most popular tourist attractions, is breathtaking to behold.
Because we have identified the place by name, the rest is additional information. It can be set off by commas. In other words, we could take it out and the meaning would not change.
Evan's friend John cheated on the test.
EVAN has more than one friend; therefore, no commas are used to set off JOHN. We need the name to know which friend we're talking about.
We students are happy with good grades.
STUDENTS identify who WE [subj.] are. If we remove it, WE does not have the same meaning.
She waited patiently for the famous author Stephen King.
STEPHEN KING identifies which famous author. There is no comma after AUTHOR because there are many famous authors.
Using Clauses as Nouns, Adjectives, and Adverbs
If a clause can stand alone as a sentence, it is an independent clause, as in the following example:
The Prime Minister is in Ottawa
Some clauses, however, cannot stand alone as sentences: in this case, they are dependent clauses or subordinate clauses. Consider the same clause with the subordinating conjunction "because" added to the beginning:
When the Prime Minister is in Ottawa
In this case, the clause could not be a sentence by itself, since the conjunction "because" suggests that the clause is providing an explanation for something else. Since this dependent clause answers the question "when," just like an adverb, it is called a dependent adverb clause (or simply an adverb clause, since adverb clauses are always dependent clauses). Note how the clause can replace the adverb "tomorrow" in the following examples:
The committee will meet tomorrow.
The committee will meet when the Prime Minister is in Ottawa.
Dependent clauses can stand not only for adverbs, but also for nouns and for adjectives.
A noun clause is an entire clause which takes the place of a noun in another clause or phrase. Like a noun, a noun clause acts as the subject or object of a verb or the object of a preposition, answering the questions "who(m)?" or "what?". Consider the following examples:
I know Latin.
I know that Latin is no longer spoken as a native language.
In the first example, the noun "Latin" acts as the direct object of the verb "know." In the second example, the entire clause "that Latin ..." is the direct object.
In fact, many noun clauses are indirect questions:
Their destination is unknown.
Where they are going is unknown.
The question "Where are they going?," with a slight change in word order, becomes a noun clause when used as part of a larger unit -- like the noun "destination," the clause is the subject of the verb "is."
Here are some more examples of noun clauses:
about what you bought at the mall
This noun clause is the object of the preposition "about," and answers the question "about what?"
Whoever broke the vase will have to pay for it.
This noun clause is the subject of the verb "will have to pay," and answers the question "who will have to pay?"
The Toronto fans hope that the Blue Jays will win again.
This noun clause is the object of the verb "hope," and answers the question "what do the fans hope?"
An adjective clause is a dependent clause which takes the place of an adjective in another clause or phrase. Like an adjective, an adjective clause modifies a noun or pronoun, answering questions like "which?" or "what kind of?" Consider the following examples:
the red coat
the coat which I bought yesterday
Like the word "red" in the first example, the dependent clause "which I bought yesterday" in the second example modifies the noun "coat." Note that an adjective clause usually comes after what it modifies, while an adjective usually comes before.
In formal writing, an adjective clause begins with the relative pronouns "who(m)," "that," or "which." In informal writing or speech, you may leave out the relative pronoun when it is not the subject of the adjective clause, but you should usually include the relative pronoun in formal, academic writing:
The books people read were mainly religious.
The books that people read were mainly religious.
Some firefighters never meet the people they save.
Some firefighters never meet the people whom they save.
Here are some more examples of adjective clauses:
the meat which they ate was tainted
This clause modifies the noun "meat" and answers the question "which meat?"
about the movie which made him cry
This clause modifies the noun "movie" and answers the question "which movie?"
they are searching for the one who borrowed the book
The clause modifies the pronoun "one" and answers the question "which one?"
Did I tell you about the author whom I met?
The clause modifies the noun "author" and answers the question "which author?"
An adverb clause is a dependent clause which takes the place of an adverb in another clause or phrase. An adverb clause answers questions such as "when?", "where?", "why?", "with what goal/result?", and "under what conditions?"
Note how an adverb clause can replace an adverb in the following example:
The premier gave a speech here.
The premier gave a speech where the workers were striking.
Usually, a subordinating conjunction like "because," "when(ever)," "where(ever)," "since," "after," and "so that," will introduce an adverb clause. Note that a dependent adverb clause can never stand alone as a complete sentence:
They left the locker room
Dependent Adverb Clause
after they left the locker room
The first example can easily stand alone as a sentence, but the second cannot -- the reader will ask what happened "after they left the locker room". Here are some more examples of adverb clauses expressing the relationships of cause, effect, space, time, and condition:
Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle because the uncle had murdered Hamlet's father.
The adverb clause answers the question "why?"
Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle so that his father's murder would be avenged.
The adverb clause answers the question "with what goal/result?".
After Hamlet's uncle Claudius married Hamlet's mother, Hamlet wanted to kill him.
The adverb clause answers the question "when?". Note the change in word order -- an adverb clause can often appear either before or after the main part of the sentence.
Where the whole Danish court was assembled, Hamlet ordered a play in an attempt to prove his uncle's guilt.
The adverb clause answers the question "where?".
If the British co-operate, the Europeans may achieve monetary union.
The adverb clause answers the question "under what conditions?"
Consider these examples:
Cows eat grass
This example is a clause, because it contains the subject "cows" and the predicate "eat grass."
Cows eating grass
What about "cows eating grass"? This noun phrase could be a subject, but it has no predicate attached to it: the adjective phrase "eating grass" show which cows the writer is referring to, but there is nothing here to show why the writer is mentioning cows in the first place.
Cows eating grass are visible from the highway
This is a complete clause again. The subject "cows eating grass" and the predicate "are visible from the highway" make up a complete thought.
This single-word command is also a clause, even though it does seem to have a subject.
With a direct command, it is not necessary to include the subject, since it is obviously the person or people you are talking to: in other words, the clause really reads "[You] run!" You should not usually use direct commands in your essays, except in quotations.