Informally, a phrase is a group of words in a sentence that functions somewhat like a single word.
For example the house at the end of the street (example 1) is a phrase. It acts like a noun. It contains the phrase at the end of the street (example 2), which acts like an adjective. Example 2 could be replaced by white, to make the phrase the white house. Examples 1 and 2 contain the phrase the end of the street (example 3) which acts like a noun. It could be replaced by the cross-roads to give the house at the cross-roads.
Each phrase has a word called its head which links it to the rest of the sentence. In English the head is often the first word of the phrase.
Phrases may be classified by the type of head they take
- Prepositional phrase with a preposition as head (e.g. in love, over the rainbow)
- Noun phrase with a noun as head (e.g. the black cat, a cat on the mat)
- Verb phrase with a verb as head (e.g. eat cheese, jump up and down)
- Adjectival phrase with an adjective as head (e.g. full of toys)
- Adverbial phrase with adverb as head (e.g. very carefully)
For example the house at the end of the street is a noun phrase. Its head is house, and its syntactic properties come from that fact. It contains prepositional phrase at the end of the street, which acts as an adjunct. At the end of the street could be replaced by another adjunct, such as white, to make the phrase the white house. Of the street, another prepositional phrase, acts as a complement of end. Each phrase has a word called its head which gives it its syntactic properties.
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 verb, which require just one verb
- complex verb have one or two aspects added, hence require additional two or three words
See also: Proverb