6 Frequently Asked Questions about Phrases in English

Strong Island- the most annoying LI phrase!

I don’t know why I’ve lately received several questions related to English (again and again). Some are more inclined to teaching (which I almost know nothing of) ; whereas the rest are more of general English. But I’m absolutely pleased to share some key points anyone studying English out there. And tonight let’s talk about several basic questions related to phrases in English. Here we go.


Question 1: What is a phrase?
A phrase is a functional word group. This type of word group acts grammatically just as single  words do, serving as nouns and modifiers. They’re of the utmost importance in composition; no one can write well who can’t handle the various types of phrases and clauses.

A phrase is therefore a word group that does NOT contain a finite verb. In other words, a phrase is NOT limited as to number, person, or tense. Despite that, a phrase may have a nonfinite one which, in turn, may even have a subject and complement.


Question 2: How many types of phrases are there in English?
There’re actually 4 types of phrases. They’re prepositional, participial, infinitive, and gerundive. There’s also a verb phrase in fact. It’s a main verb plus one or more auxiliaries. A verb phrase, however, functions ONLY as a finite verb form and need not be included in this discussion. Yet we still need to know a little bit.


Question 3: What is a prepositional phrase?

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition (of, to, by, in, and so on). The object may be a noun (with or without modifiers) or one of the other functional word groups acting as a noun.

We are in the house. ( in: preposition; the house: noun)

We were curious about what was said. (about: preposition; what was said: dependent clause)

He asked about how to get downtown. (about: preposition; how to get downtown infinitive phrase)

They approved of his going to college. (of: preposition; his going to college: gerundive phrase)


Question 4: What is a participial phrase?

A participial phrase comprises a participal, usually the present or the past, plus one or more words associated with it as modifiers or complement:

Tiptoeing past the sentry, they entered the castle. (Tiptoeing: participal;  past the sentry: modifier)


Question 5: What is an infinitive phrase?

An infinitive phrase is built around an infinitive, usually the present active form, plus one or more words, which may function as a subject of the infinitive, as a complement, or as a modifier.

They asked me to go. (me: subject of an infinitive phrase; to go: infinitive)


Question 6: What is a gerundive phrase?

It is a phrase that is constructed by a gerund (the -ing verbal acting as a noun) and other words. The other words may relate to the gerund as a subject, complement, or modifier.

The king’s abrupt dropping of Raleigh was no surprise.

(The king’s: subject;  abrupt: modifier;  dropping : gerund; of Raleigh: modifier)


(reference: The Oxford Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane)

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