If you recognize and understand parts of a sentence, you will be able to improve your grammar quite a bit. Please make sure you understand Phrases and Clauses.
As we learned before, a phrase is A sequence of grammatically related words without a subject, a predicate, or both; a clause is A group of related words that contains a subject and a predicate.
Phrases are smaller than clauses. Two or more phrases joined together make a clause.
Types of Phrases
There are eight types of phrases that we will review:
- Noun Phrase: a noun and its modifiers
- Verb Phrase: a verb and its auxiliary (helping) verbs
- Gerund Phrase: ~ing form of a verb; acts as a noun
- Participial Phrase: ~ing/~ed form of a verb; acts as a modifier
- Infinitive Phrase: "to" + base form of verb; acts as a noun or modifier
- Prepositional Phrase: a preposition + noun phrase; acts as a modifier
- Appositive: a double noun (phrase) describing a single thing
- Absolute Phrase: a noun phrase modified by a prepositional or a participial phrase
A noun phrase is simply a noun with mofifiers, including articles and other adjectives.
a new book
an incredibly good fortune
A verb phrase is simply a verb with auxiliary (helping) verbs and adverbs.
could have gone
might have very quickly went
Prepositional phrases modify based upon time, place, cause, and manner. They are made up of a preposition and a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase. These nouns are called objects of the preposition.
Problem #1: Prepositional Phrase Positioning
You must be careful to place the prepositional phrase close to the words it modifies so you can avoid confusion. For example:
We will talk about the problem of cheating in my office.
In the sentence above, it sounds like there is cheating in my office, and that is a problem which we will talk about. However, what is meant is that there is a problem about cheating, and I want to talk about it in my office. Therefore, you should instead write:
In my office, we will talk about the problem of cheating. or,
We will talk in my office about the problem of cheating.
Problem #2: Prepositions vs. Phrasal Verbs
Another problem with participial phrases is that they are often confused with phrasal verbs (not verb phrases!) such as "break up" or "lay off." Many people are confused about what is a verb + preposition, and what is a phrasal verb.
The easiest way to tell is to ask if the preposition is literal or not; that is, does the preposition mean exactly what it says? If you use the preposition "up," is anything actually going upwards? If not, then it is probably a phrasal verb. For example, if I "break up a fight," I am not doing anything in an upwards directions toward a fight.
An appositive is a double noun phrase, sometimes with commas, which clarifies or adds extra information about the noun.
My brother, Tito, moved back to America last year.
I went to see Spielberg's new movie Lincoln last night.
"My brother" and "Tito" refer to the same person; "Spielberg's new movie" and "Lincoln" are the same movie.
Appositives can be essential (restrictive) and non-essential (non-restrictive). This will be covered in more detail in a following chapter, but remember that the use of commas can change meaning in important ways:
I told my brother Tito that I will be visiting for Christmas.
I told my brother, Tito, that I will be visiting for Christmas.
In the first sentence above, it is likely (but not certain) that I have more than one brother; in the second sentence, it is probably clear that I have only one brother. Adding commas makes the appositive non-essential; this means that the second noun phrase (in this case, "Tito") is not necessary (essential) to clarify the meaning of the first noun phrase ("my brother"). If the phrase "my brother" does not require clarification, that means it is clear who "my brother" is.
Notice that I use the words "likely" and "probably." This is because there are exceptions. For example, the identity of my brother might be clear for other reasons: he might have been mentioned previously, I might be pointing at him, or his identity might be clear from the context of the conversation.
An absolute phrase consists of a noun phrase followed by either a prepositional phrase or a participial phrase. Absolute phrases act as modifiers, and usually are separated by commas. They often describe something which clarifies a situation or sets an emotional tone.
Ten dollars in his pocket, Billy left for the candy store. Marsha waited by the front door, her suitcase packed and ready.
Absolute phrases can add a great deal of meaning with very few words. Consider these two sentences:
Bruce spoke to the girl sitting next to him.
His wedding ring in his pocket, Bruce spoke to the girl sitting next to him.
In the first sentence, Bruce might be speaking to the girl sitting next to him for any reason; the context is unclear. However, in the second sentence, because of the absolute phrase, we know that if he probably intends to begin a romantic relationship with the girl despite the fact that he is married.
Absolute phrases are an excellent way to add description to your writing!