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What Is a Phrase? (with Examples)

What Is a Phrase? (with Examples)

A phrase is a group of words that stand together as a single unit, typically as part of a clause or a sentence.

A phrase does not contain a subject and verb and, consequently, cannot convey a complete thought. A phrase contrasts with a clause. A clause does contain a subject and verb, and it can convey a complete idea.

Here Are Some Examples of Phrases

Here are some examples of phrases in a well-known quote by Shirley Temple:
  • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph. (Shirley Temple)
  • (This phrase acts like a noun. It is the direct object of the verb stopped. This phrase is a gerund phrase.)

  • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph.
  • (This phrase acts like a noun. It is the subject of the adverbial clause when my mother took me to see him in a department store.)
  • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph.
  • (This phrase acts like a noun. It is the object of the preposition for.)

  • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph.
  • (This phrase acts like an adverb. It tells us where the activity took place. It is an adverb of place.)

The Hierarchy of Word Units

The hierarchy of word units is:
  • Word (e.g., Shark)
  • (A word is the smallest meaningful unit.)

  • Phrase (e.g., A seven-foot tiger shark)
  • (A phrase is a single piece of information made up of more than one word. It will not contain a subject and a verb.)
  • Clause (e.g., When a seven-foot tiger shark arrived...)
  • (A clause is a single piece of information made up of more than one word which contains a subject and a verb.)

  • Sentence (e.g., A seven-foot tiger shark arrived.)
  • (A sentence conveys a complete idea. It must contain at least one clause. Note: A clause that stands alone as a sentence is known as an independent clause.)
  • Complex Sentence (e.g., When a seven-foot tiger shark arrived, the crew stopped fishing.)
  • (A complex sentence is an independent clause supported by at least one other clause.)

  • Compound Sentence (e.g., A seven-foot tiger shark arrived, and the crew stopped fishing.)
  • (A compound sentence is a sentence made up of at least two independent clauses.)
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