Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ENGL 3663: Phrases


To begin with, all English sentences – indeed, all sentences in all human languages, so far as we have encountered them – divide into subject and predicate.

That is to say, all English sentences tell us about a topic (a person, a thing, an idea, whatever), and then tell us something about that topic.

As a speaker of English, you already know about this division, and you’ll probably find you can divide sentences into subjects and predicates quite easily. Where would you put the division in these sentences, for instance?

                Elvis bakes pies.
                The dancing bears love sugar cubes.
                Studying grammar each evening is a delight,
                The people who live next door have six dogs and a kitten.

If you put the division after Elvis, bears, evening, and door, you have a clear understanding of the subject / predicate division.

If you have trouble with that division, here are some tests you can use:
(1)         Underline what you think is the subject. Then try replacing it with a pronoun (They, he, she, it). If you can’t substitute a pronoun for the underlined word/group of words, it’s probably not the subject. Thus, “They love sugar cubes” is right, but “The dancing they love sugar cubes” is not. Similarly, “It is a delight” is correct, but “It each evening is a delight” is not.

(2)        Turn your sentence into a question. The subject should move to after the verb. Thus, “Do the dancing bears love sugar cubes?” and “Is studying grammar each evening a delight?”

Kinds of Phrases:

·        Noun phrase NP
·        Verb phrase VP
·        Main Verb phrase MVP
·        Adjective phrase  ADJP
·        Adverb phrase ADVP

Reminder: Phrases are groups of words that act as a single unit, as above “the dancing bears” and “the people who live next door” act as noun phrases – as units, serving as the subjects of their sentences.
Within the subject and the predicate, we will have phrases. These are noun phrases, main verb phrases, adjective phrases, and adverb phrases. Every phrase has a headword, and that headword determines the name of the phrase.

Noun phrase: A noun, or any group of words that can substitute for a noun. Nouns function as subjects, objects, indirect objects, objects of prepositions, and predicate nominatives. The headword of a noun phrase is the main noun in that phrase.

Main verb phrase: The main verb of a sentence plus its auxiliaries, if any. The headword of a main verb phrase is the main verb.

Verb phrase: We can also have verb phrases elsewhere in a sentence – in a relative clause, for instance, or in a subordinated clause. These won’t be the main verb phrase, but like the MVP, they’ll be constructed of a verb plus any auxiliaries.

Adjective phrase: An adjective, or a group of word that can substitute for an adjective. The headword of an adjective phrase is the main adjective in the phrase.

Adverb phrase: An adverb, or a group of words that can substitute for an adverb.

How do we know what kind of phrase we have? We decide what kind of phrase we have by looking at both form and function. Look at the most important word in that phrase, and look at the way the phrase is functioning.  If the most important word is a noun, and the phrase is functioning as a noun, then we have a noun phrase.  If the most important word is a verb, and the phrase is functioning as verb, then we have a verb phrase.


        The dog was biting my cousin Leo very gently.

Here we have a NP acting as the subject: The dog (headword dog)

A MVP: was biting (headword biting)

Another NP acting an as object: my cousin Leo (headword Leo)

And then an ADVP: very gently (headword gently)

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