Phrase definition

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Phrase definition

Phrase definition: A phrase is a grammatical term referring to a group of words that does not include a subject and verb.

What is a Phrase? Examples, Definitions

What are phrases? A phrase is a group (or pairing) of words in English. A phrase can be short or long, but it does not include the subject-verb pairing necessary to make a clause.

Some examples of phrases include:

  • after the meal (prepositional phrase)

  • the nice neighbor (noun phrase)

  • were waiting for the movie (verb phrase)

None of these examples contains a subject doing an action (subject-verb). Therefore, each example is merely a group of words called a phrase.

A phrase will always be more than one word.

Phrases vs. Clauses: a Hierarchy of Word Units

A phrase is any group of words that does not contain a subject completing an action.

When a group of words contains a subject doing an action (subject-verb), it becomes a clause.

Phrases can be added to sentences to make them more complex.

Concepts can begin with a single word and develop into a compound sentence.


  • meal (word)

  • after the meal (phrase)

  • that mom prepared (clause)

  • After the meal that mom prepared I felt full. (sentence)

  • After the meal that mom prepared, I felt full because I ate too much. (complex sentence)

  • After the meal that mom prepared I felt full, but my brother was still hungry. (compound sentence)

More Phrase Examples

Before we go into different types of grammatical phrases, let’s look at a few more examples of phrases.

  • In the air (prepositional phrase)

  • Beside the bed (prepositional phrase)

  • Along the road (prepositional phrase)

  • To live and breathe (infinitive phrase)

  • Looking stunning (participle phrase)

As you can see, English phrases can be just about any combination of words so long as they do not contain a subject-verb pairing.

Different Types of Phrase

What is a noun phrase? Noun phrases consist of a noun and its modifiers.

What is a verb phrase? Verb phrases consist of a verb and its modifiers.

  • were waiting for the movie

  • felt a prick on his arm

What is an adverbial phrase? Adverbial phrases are phrases that act as adverbs. They modify verbs, adverbs, or adjectives.

  • around the block (modifying where)

  • after the meal (modifying when)

  • in silence (modifying how)

What is a gerund phrase? Gerund phrases are essentially noun phrases that begin with a gerund.

What is an infinitive phrase? Infinitive phrases begin with a verb infinitive and include any modifiers. Infinitive phrases function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

What is an appositive phrase? An appositive is essentially a noun phrase but one that renames another noun in the sentence.

What is a participle phrase? A participle phrase begins with a present (-ing) or past (-ed) participle. A participle phrase includes the participle and its modifiers. Participle phrases function as adjectives.

  • The girls giggling and playing in the park never seemed to tire.

  • Fatigued and dehydrated in the desert the men traveled on.

What is a prepositional phrase? A prepositional phrase is a group of words that includes a preposition and a noun. A prepositional phrase will function as either an adjective or an adverb.

What is an absolute phrase? An absolute phrase includes a noun and a participle and any modifiers.

  • the flag flying at half-mast

  • her hair streaked with sunlight

Summary: What are Phrases?

Define phrase: The definition of phrase is any grouping of words that does not contain a subject and a verb. A phrase is a very basic word unit in English.

  • Phrases Examples:

    • Reading a book

    • The tall basketball player

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