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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In grammar, a phrase is a group of words functioning as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence.

For example, the house at the end of the street is a phrase. It acts like a noun. It can further be broken down into two shorter phrases functioning as adjectives: at the end and of the street, a shorter prepositional phrase within the longer prepositional phrase. At the end of the street could be replaced by an adjective such as nearby: the nearby house or even the house nearby. The end of the street could also be replaced by another noun, such as the crossroads to produce the house at the crossroads.

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. For example, the rich is a noun phrase composed of a determiner and an adjective without a noun.


Types of phrases

Phrases may be classified by the type of head taken by them:

Formal definition

A phrase is a syntactic structure having syntactic properties derived from its head.


A complex phrase consists of several words, whereas a simple phrase consists of only one word. This terminology is especially often used with verb phrases:

  • simple past and present are simple phrases, which require just one verb
  • complex verbs have one or two aspects added and hence require additional two or three words

"Complex," which is phrase-level, is often confused with "compound," which is word-level. However, there are certain phenomena that formally seem to be phrases but semantically are more like compounds, such as "women's magazines," which has the form of a possessive noun phrase, but which refers (just like a compound) to one specific lexeme (i.e. a magazine for women and not a magazine owned by a woman).

Semiotic approaches to the concept of "phrase"

In more semiotic approaches to language, such as the more cognitivist versions of construction grammar, a phrasal structure is not only a certain formal combination of word types whose features are inherited from the head. Here each phrasal structure also expresses some type of conceptual content, be it specific or abstract.

See also

External links

  • The Phrase Finder - The meanings and origins of phrases, sayings, and idioms
  • - A large collection of common phrases that can be heard and translated to several languages.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also phrase


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de


Phrase f. (genitive Phrase, plural Phrasen)

  1. phrase

Simple English

A phrase is a small group of words that adds meaning to a word. A phrase is not a sentence because it is not a complete idea with a subject and a predicate.

In English there are five different kinds of phrases, one for each of the main parts of speech. In a phrase, the main word, or the word that is what the phrase is about, is called the head. In these examples, it is printed in cyan. The words which make up the rest of the phrase and do the work of changing, or modifying the head, are printed in green.

In a noun phrase, one or more words work together to give more information about a noun.

  • all my dear children
  • the information age
  • seventeen hungry lions in the rocks

In an adjective phrase, one or more words work together to give more information about an adjective.

  • so very sweet
  • earnest in her desire
  • very happy with his work

In a verb phrase, one or more words work together to give more meaning to a verb. In English, the verb phrase is very complex, but a good description of its many forms can be found here.

In an adverb phrase, one or more words work together to give more information about an adverb.

  • especially softly
  • formerly of the city of Perth
  • much too quickly to see clearly

In a prepositional phrase, one or more words work together to give information about time, location, or possession, or condition. The preposition always appears at the front of the phrase.

  • after a very long walk
  • behind the old building
  • for all the hungry children
  • in case it should happen again


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