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Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

A phrase is a group of words that contains a subject or a verb, but not both. Types of commonly used phrases include noun phrases, appositive phrases, verb phrases, and prepositional phrases. The different types of phrases are the building blocks of sentences and you can break down sentences and identify the phrases.

Now we're going to talk about the building blocks of sentences, and those are groups of words called phrases. Phrases are groups of words that contain a subject or a verb, but they don't contain both of them. We use them a lot in our writing. They actually work to add lots of detail and give more information.

There's tons of different kinds of phrases, but we're going to focus in on right now are the four probably most popular ones that you'll use in your writing. The first are Noun Phrases.

Noun phrases simply consist of a noun and any words that describe it. So we've got: The very hairy dog.

The next type of phrases that are used frequently are Positive phrases. And those are just phrases that rename the subject. If we said the very hairy dog Henry, Henry is our Positive phrase that renames that subject, the very hairy dog.

Next we've got Verb phrases, and just like Noun phrases, they contain a verb and any words that describe verb. We've got: viciously barked. Then finally, probably the most often used type of phrase is a Prepositional phrase, and that is a preposition followed by its object. So we've got: at the neighbor's cat.

Let's talk about why we use them, so tricks, things that will help you guys remember it. Phrases cannot stand on their own. So if you have identified a phrase and that's all there is in a sentence, you don't have a complete sentence. Phrase will always be hooked up to something else, in order to make it a complete sentence. It will either give it its subject or its verb.

The other reason we use phrases a lot in writing, is to add detail. We could say some really simple sentences, but phrases allow us to add some more information, add more detail to make that writing come alive.

Let's take a look at the sentence: Henry my dog loves to scare the neighbor's cat with his vicious bark. Now we could have also said; Henry loves to scare the cat, but it's not quite as vivid. So we threw in some phrases here to make this come alive. If we start kind of breaking this down and identifying our phrases, we've got Henry, which is a Noun phrase and standing on it's own. 'My dog' which renames Henry, is one of those a Positive phrases. 'Loves to scare', that's one big Verb phrase, so it's talking about what that dog likes to do. Then we've got 'the neighbor's cat', another Noun phrase to give a little bit more detail. Finally we end with a Prepositional phrase: with his vicious bark.

You can see this is really the building block. Everything in the sentence is going to fit into a particular phrase. Once you start identifying those, then you can talk about correct punctuation, where you want to take things out, where you might want to add things.

Let's see if you guys can do this on your own. We've got the sentence: cute little Henry especially loves his dog bone. See if you can break down these phrases and hopefully what you come up with is: cute little Henry, cute and little are both describing Henry which is our noun. So we've got our Noun phrase there. Then we've got love, that's what Henry is doing, but we've got a word that's modifying it. So especially loves is a Verb phrase and then his dog bone is a noun, so we've got a Noun phrase, because we've got those modifying nouns with it.

Let's take a look at this; his best trick is high-fiving. So the big noun here, the subject is, his trick. But 'his' and 'best' are describing it, so that's a Noun phrase. And then the verb here we've got 'is high-fiving' we've got to include that whole Verb phrase there, to let us know we've got a helping verb and then the main verb there, so we've got a Verb phrase to make that up.

Phrases aren't necessarily a scary thing. But again, like you saw with our example, they are the building block of your writing. It's really important to be able to correctly identify what type you have.