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A phrase is one or more words that form a meaningful grammatical unit within a clause. There are five main types of phrase in English, as below.

Noun Phrase

A noun phrase (NP) can be a single noun or a group of words built around a single noun, for example:

  • Animals need water.
  • Who ate the last sandwich?
  • All passengers with tickets can board now.

Verb Phrase

A verb phrase (VP, also called a "verb group") consists of a main verb and its auxiliary verbs (including modals), for example:

  • We have been working since 9am.
  • will be going to France next week.
  • It may have been being repaired.

Adjective Phrase

An adjective phrase can be a single adjective or a group of words built around a single adjective, for example:

  • He has clever ideas.
  • It was a very big meal.
  • The students were really bored with the film.

Adverb Phrase

An adverb phrase can be a single adverb or a group of words built around a single adverb, for example:

  • Please do it now.
  • He spoke very softly.
  • They did it as fast as possible.

Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition followed by its object (usually a noun phrase), for example:

  • They were arguing about money.
  • The window was behind a large brown sofa.
  • They resumed after an unusually large meal.

The table below shows all five phrase types used in a single clause:

he is jumping over the very lazy dog as fast as possible
NP VP PrepP AdvP
Note that the word "phrase" can also mean any short group of words such as EnglishClub's "because people speak English" and other company mottos, as well as expressions typical of idioms such as a piece of cake, back to square one and caught red-handed.

Contributor: Josef Essberger