What exactly is a phrase?

A phrase is a group of word (usually small) that forms part of a clause and is in itself meaningful. However, it cannot form a complete independent entity on its own because it does not make a complete sense.

We have the following types of phrases:

Noun phrase:

As the name implies, it’s all about a noun as the central unit.


  1. The man raised his hands and approached the guard.
  2. A bottle of milk could do the trick.
  3. I saw him reading a book about the misappropriation of public fund.

Verb phrase

A verb is the main part of this phrase—showing action.


  1. I will leave as soon as he comes.
  2. We should have been rewarded before the conference.
  3. We might have known him.

Adjective phrase

This is a phrase that forms the adjectival part of a clause.


  1. He was very friendly when we met him.
  2. They opined that pastors should be as pure as possible.
  3. Tortoise are too slow, they can’t win any race.

Adverbial phrase

It is the adjectival part of a clause with word added before and/or after it.


  1. He drove the car extremely slowly.
  2. We must move as quickly as possible to arrest them.
  3. It is very likely they knew about it.

Note: Don’t get confused about the ‘very’ in both adjective and adverbial phrases. friendly is an adjective; likely is an adverb.

Prepositional phrase

This type of phrase is formed by using a preposition at the ‘beginning’ of the phrase.


  1. He sat in the armchair and looked lost.
  2. The captain stood on the bridge and waved at us.
  3. I can’t go near the bag, it might contain an explosive device.

Note: you sit on a chair but in an armchair.

Words that have a particular meaning, often referred to as idioms, are also called phrases. Examples are: a square meal, rain cats and dogs, etc.



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